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Miami coach optimistic about MAC tourney

Dan Simonds feels good about Miami University’s chances in the Mid-American Conference baseball tournament, even though the RedHawks have failed to win a title since he took over the program in 2006.

“I might be the eternal optimist, but I’ve got a good feeling,” said Simonds, whose fifth-seeded squad will open the double-elimination tourney against No. 4 Ball State at 9 a.m. today at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon. “I think there’s a lot of good energy and leadership.”

Miami (25-28 overall, 14-13 in the MAC) has a 10-11 tournament record under Simonds, qualifying for the event every season but 2008.

The RedHawks’ last championship and NCAA tournament berth came in 2005. The head coach was Tracy Smith, who directed Indiana to the Big Ten regular-season crown this spring.

Simonds will send his ace, senior right-hander Brooks Fiala (6-5, 3.04 ERA), to the mound against BSU. The Cardinals lost two of three games in Oxford last month.

The Cardinals (28-23, 15-12) have the MAC’s second-best team ERA (3.70). Righty Scott Baker (11-1, 1.63) has been the top hurler in the conference.

Here’s a look at the other six teams in the tournament (in order of seeding):

1. Kent State (34-21, 20-7) — It’s hard to bet against the Golden Flashes, who are seeking their fifth straight MAC tourney championship and advanced to the College World Series last year. The East Division champions are also on a seven-game winning streak and have won 15 of their last 16 games.

First baseman George Roberts (.353) leads the conference in hitting.

2. Buffalo (32-22, 19-7) — The Bulls have the MAC’s best team ERA (3.65) and appeared to be headed for the No. 1 seed, but gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Bowling Green and dropped their regular-season finale 5-4.

UB is the feel-good story of the spring. This is Buffalo’s first winning season since 1983.

3. Northern Illinois (22-32, 16-11) — The Huskies captured the West Division title in dramatic fashion, closing the regular season with a 6-4 win in 10 innings at Ball State. Before that, NIU had suffered six straight defeats.

6. Bowling Green (20-28, 13-14) — The Falcons rank fourth in the MAC in batting average (.278) and team ERA (3.96), so they’re capable of being a sleeper in the tourney. BG has 11 losses by two or less runs this year.

7. Toledo (22-31, 13-14) — The Rockets are the conference’s top hitting team (.286), but they’re seventh in runs scored. In other words, a lot of UT runners have been stranded this spring.

8. Central Michigan (25-30, 12-15) — The Chippewas are powered by Edgewood High School graduate Cody Leichman, who’s hitting .323 with eight doubles, two home runs and 26 RBIs.

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