FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
KALAMAZOO, Mich.- The Western Michigan University baseball team has released its 2012 season schedule, featuring 16 home games and a number of highly competitive non-conference contests. As part of the annual trip to Florida, the Broncos will play the Detroit Tigers during spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Other notable non-conference opponents include Arizona State, regional foe Notre Dame and four Big Ten teams in Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern. WMU defeated defending Big Ten champion Michigan State twice last year, and the two teams are inked for another home-and-home series this season.
The tough early schedule is an indication of the expectations set by head coach Billy Gernon for 2012.
“The schedule presents challenges, opportunities and great possibilities,” said Gernon. “As we move forward as a program, relentlessly pursuing a championship, it is important to have a schedule that has intent, as well as one that creates enthusiasm and great anticipation.”
Western Michigan opens the 2012 campaign in Tempe, Ariz., with a three-game series against PAC-12 runner-up Arizona State, Feb. 17-19. The Sun Devils finished 2011 with a 43-18 overall record, advancing to the Super Regional, and were ranked No. 10/9 (USA Today/Baseball America) in the final Top 25 poll.
As Gernon goes on to explain, the schedule is more than just the challenge of opponent, the competitive nature is designed to give his players a postseason feel.
“Arizona State is a program of national recognition and I expect them to be ranked in the top 10 at the start of the season,” Gernon said. “Most importantly, playing in Tempe is a regional-type atmosphere. I want our team to have had that exposure, so when we do reach our goal of a MAC championship, that particular arena will be familiar territory. As we increase our expectations, I will continue to place teams of this caliber on future schedules.”
WMU begins its annual Florida swing in Winter Haven against St. Bonaventure, Feb. 24-26, and then heads over to Port Charlotte for the Buckeye Classic, March 2-4. The Broncos will run across Northwestern, Villanova and host Ohio State (doubleheader) while in Port Charlotte.
Capping the stay in the Sunshine State is an exhibition game between Western Michigan and the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, March 6. While it is not the first time the two have played in exhibition, it is the first time Western Michigan will face a major-league opponent in recent memory.
Last year’s connection at the Leadoff Dinner, a banquet held by the baseball program in late January in which WMU alum and Detroit Tigers GM and CEO Dave Dombrowski was the keynote speaker, helped make the game a reality.
“Our spring trip will serve us well, as it will allow us to better prepare for the upcoming MAC season, Gernon said. “We also have been presented a remarkable opportunity to play an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. Dave Dombrowski has been gracious to many of us at Western Michigan and we are thankful for what he has done and continues to do for our program.”
WMU makes one final stop before its home opener, traveling to Evansville for a three-game series against the Purple Aces, March 16-18. After playing the first 14 games away from Kalamazoo, the Broncos host Bowling Green to begin Mid-American Conference play the weekend of March 23-25.
Of the nine, three-game, MAC weekends, Western Michigan has Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois at home and Buffalo, Toledo, Kent State, Ball State and Central Michigan on the road.
Midweek non-conference contests sprinkled throughout the schedule after MAC play begins are home-and-home series with Oakland, Valparaiso, Chicago State and Michigan State, as well as a road contest at Notre Dame (April 11) and a home game against Michigan (May 15). The Broncos travel to East Lansing April 17, and host the Spartans May 8.
“We are obviously excited for the upcoming season and plan to carry the momentum we created in the 2011 season,” Gernon added.
Western Michigan made significant strides in 2011, its first season under Gernon. The Broncos finished with an overall record of 26-31, a 14-game improvement from the year before, and upped its conference win total by eight, going 12-14 in MAC play. WMU placed 10th nationally in terms of program turn around. The Broncos advanced to the MAC Tournament for the first time since 2008 and recorded the program’s first postseason win since 1998, upsetting No. 2 seed Central Michigan, 9-7, in the first round.
The 2012 MAC Tournament will have a different venue than past years, as the conference signed a deal to host the tournament at All Pro Freight Stadium (home of the Frontier League Lake Erie Crushers) in Avon, Ohio, through 2014. V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio hosted the tournament from 2008-2011.