Toledo (17-25, 8-10 MAC) wraps up its home ledger this weekend entertaining Mid-American Conference West Division frontrunner Northern Illinois (19-24, 13-5 MAC) in a three-game series. The MAC West Division rivals will play single contests on Friday-Sunday, May 3-5. Action will begin at Scott Park at 3:05 p.m. the first day and 1:05 p.m. the final two contests.
Prior to the start of Saturday's matchup, the Rockets will acknowledge their five seniors — Matt Delewski, Ben Hammer, Jared Locke, Andy Mix, Kyle Shaw — who are appearing in their final home weekend in a UT uniform. This quintet has helped lead Toledo to 107 wins and three consecutive appearances in the MAC Tournament during their time donning the Midnight Blue & Gold.
The 2012 MAC West Division champion Rockets are entering the homestretch of the regular season playing their best baseball of the spring, winning five of the last seven games.
One of the main reasons for UT's excellent play has been the performance of its pitchers. The staff has posted an impressive 3.05 ERA during this stretch, giving up 3.9 runs (27) on 8.7 hits (61) with 6.1 punchouts (43). As a unit, the Rockets' hurlers are limiting the opposition to hit at a .252 clip (61-for-242).
Offensively, the Rockets have done more than hold their own, hitting a flashy .303 (77-for-254) and averaging 7.4 runs (52) on 11.0 hits (77). Senior OF Ben Hammer has sparked the attack, batting a scintillating .519 (14-for-24) with 10 runs scored, two home runs and 15 RBI.
Earlier this week, Hammer was selected the CollegeBaseballInsider.com Louisville Slugger Central Region Player of the Week and MAC West Division Player of the Week for his outstanding efforts as of late, marking the fourth time this season that a Rocket has been picked as either the league's top hitter or hurler.
With only nine league games remaining, Toledo currently sits in a three-way tie for third place with Ball State (19-20, 8-10 MAC) and preseason favorite Central Michigan (19-23, 8-10 MAC) and one game behind Eastern Michigan (21-21, 9-9 MAC) for the second spot in the MAC West Division standings. The Huskies continue to pace the division with a four-game cushion after six weekends of league competition.
UT was picked to finish second in the MAC West Division, while NIU was tabbed to place sixth in the preseason coaches poll.
Overall in 2013, Toledo is hitting a conference-best .288 (418-for-1,450) with 218 runs (5.2 rpg) scored on 418 hits (10.0 hpg) (rankings as of April 29). The Rockets also stand second in the league in on-base percentage (.361) and sacrifice hits (53).
Individually, junior OF Tyler Grogg is leading the MAC with a .370 (54-for-146) average, followed by Delewski at .352 (62-for-176), third-best mark in the league. Delewski is also pacing the conference in hits (62), while Grogg is tied for eighth (54).
On the mound, the Rockets are tallying a 4.82 ERA, eighth-best mark in the MAC (rankings as of April 29). Toledo is giving up 5.6 runs (234) on 9.4 hits (393) with 5.7 punchouts (241) per game. The Midnight Blue & Gold also stand second in the conference in complete games (6) and fewest walks allowed (3.80).
Individually, junior LHP Ryan Wilkinson is pacing the team with a 2.64 ERA, tied for sixth-best total in the league. Wilkinson has been the workhorse for the Rockets once again this spring, tossing at least 7.0 innings in a career-best six consecutive starts. The 2011 second-team All-MAC performer currently ranks second in the league in complete games (4), tied for second in innings pitched (7.12), tied for third in games started and shutouts (1) and tied for 10th in wins.
Wilkinson (4-3, 2.64 ERA, 78.1 IP, 79 H, 31 R, 23 ER, 9 BB, 39 K) will draw the start in Sunday's series finale and be joined in the weekend rotation by LHP Kyle Shaw (4-5, 3.51 ERA, 74.1 IP, 66 H, 31 R, 29 ER, 16 BB, 49 K) and junior RHP Cameron Palmer (2-4, 4.47 ERA, 52.1 IP, 52 H, 31 R, 26 ER, 19 BB, 45 K) on Friday and Saturday. Wilkinson and Shaw have appeared in the rotation each of the first 11 weeks this spring, while Palmer will make his fifth-straight weekend start.
The Huskies enter the UT series having won each of their last five MAC weekend series, most recently taking two of three contests against Miami at home.
NIU owns a .252 batting average, fourth-worst in the MAC, and is tallying 4.2 runs (180) on 8.7 hits (365) per game (rankings as of April 29). The trio of Jeff Zimmerman, Tommy Hook and Alex Klonowski pace the team with .325 (54-for-166), .308 (37-for-120) and .303 (50-for-165) marks, respectively. Hook currently ranks fourth in the MAC in on-base percentage (.419), while Zimmerman sits seventh in two-base hits (12).
On the hill, Northern Illinois has a 4.55 ERA, sixth-best in the conference, and opponents are batting .272 against them (rankings as of April 29). Their pitchers have registered 221 strikeouts while issuing 172 walks.
Individually, junior RHP Eli Anderson is the team's ace, tallying a 7-3 ledger with a miniscule 2.16 ERA in 83.1 innings of work. Anderson currently leads the league in complete games (5) and innings pitched (7.58), as well as ranking tied for second in wins, third in ERA, sixth in punchouts and tied for eighth in opponent batting average (.240, 72-for-300).
This weekend will also feature two of the premier defensive teams in the conference. The Rockets currently lead the league in fielding percentage at .970, while the Huskies are a close second at .965.
Last spring, Toledo swept its three-game series against Northern Illinois by scores of 7-3, 5-1 and 4-3 (10 Inn.) at Ralph McKinzie Field in DeKalb.
The Rockets posted a .287 (29-for-101) average and averaged 5.3 runs per contest to win the series against the Huskies for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. UT also accumulated a stellar 0.96 ERA and surrendered only three earned runs in the three victories.
Individually, sophomore OF Dan Zuchowski batted a team-high .615 (8-for-13), followed closely by former Rocket INF Joe Corfman (5-for-10) with an impressive .500 mark.