KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Central Michigan and Western Michigan rivalry runs deep in every sport.
However, this weekend on the baseball diamond, the rivalry means a bit more with the Mid-American Conference title on the line.
"You'd be remiss if you didn't realize what's at stake here," said Western Michigan baseball coach, Billy Gernon.
The Broncos entered game one on Friday just six games back of the conference-leading Chippewas, who entered with a 22-6 record in the MAC.
"They're in third place right now for a reason, that's a really good offense and some quality, experienced pitchers," added Central Michigan baseball coach, Jordan Bischel, "it'll be a dogfight."
Ball State is just one game back of the Chippewas, who are looking to punch their second straight ticket to the NCAA Regional after breaking a 24 year tournament drought in 2019.
"Instead of being stressed out for one week, you get to do it for the full season," joked Bischel, "it kind of stinks for the guys obviously, that's a fun experience. However, we're going to send our best team to the NCAA tournament, there's no way at the end of this you can't say whoever is the best over 40 games didn't earn it."
Billy Gernon is now in his eleventh year as Western Michigan's head baseball coach and says the conference has taken a big step forward recently.
"I think if there was any year that I've been here, this is year, this is the most competitive conference matchups that I've seen since I've been here."
Both programs are on the cusp of turning the corner and making a name for themselves around college baseball.
In fact, both programs have played in a NCAA Regional in the past five years, the Broncos in 2016 and the Chippewas in 2019.
Both coaches know what's at stake with this weekend's series.
"We've both been knocking on that door more than not here lately and this weekend will probably determine whether one of us gets that opportunity again or not," Gernon added.
And while it is a rivalry, there's a ton of respect on both sides.
"Coach Gernon does a really good job," Bischel added, "they've progressively built that thing in a direction where they're very competitive, they're a good team. Blake Dunn has been hurt a good chunk of the year, he's one of the top players in the league and they've still had one of the top offenses in the league."
Bischel was hired in 2018 and led Central Michigan to that first NCAA berth since 1995.
Now, in a roller coaster of a season, he's hoping they can make it back-to-back and says he has a roster that is very capable of exactly that.
"It's a tough year with roster depth and bigger roster," said Bischel, "these guys have checked their egos at the door and just said we all want to contribute to helping this team win."
Western Michigan would take game one of the series, 8-2 on Friday but both teams know there are three pivotal games left.
"You just have to fight and compete until the end," said Gernon, "it'll be a ten round fight, there will be four of them, we're going to have to keep swinging, I know they will too and Monday we'll know what happened."