Teddy Cahill

Preseason rankings are often blown off by coaches as meaningless accolades.

The Ball State University baseball team will get a firsthand look at why so many ignore preseason polls. The University of Missouri baseball team, the Cardinals' next opponent, began the season ranked No. 20 in the country. The Tigers have started the year 3-7, including a seven-game losing streak.

Despite Missouri's struggles, coach Greg Beals said he expects a strong test for Ball State in its four-game series beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

"I'm expecting to see a very good baseball team," Beals said. "They got off to a tough start, but playing against great competition. We're expecting the same team that was picked in the preseason to be in the top 25."

Included in the Tigers' losses are Arizona State University and Oregon State University, teams Beals described as "top-shelf programs in the country."

Missouri also lost to Ball State's fellow member of the Mid-American Conference, Northern Illinois University, 5-2. All of the Tigers' losses came on the road before they won their home opener 8-0 against Western Illinois University on Thursday.

The Cardinals enter Columbia, Mo., looking to stay hot after sweeping their two games in the Austin Peay Invitational last weekend.

"We have to play our style of baseball," junior reliever Aaron Hammons said. "We did a real good job this last weekend."

Ball State's offense will face tough opposition from the Tigers' pitching staff. Junior Kyle Gibson has started the year 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA. The Greenfield native played with Hammons in high school and was named a preseason All-American.

"Gibson is a first round draft pick," Beals said. "They're solid all the way around, but their strength is pitching. It's going to be tough."

Junior catcher Trevor Coleman also earned preseason All-American honors, but has so far struggled at the plate, hitting only .216. Senior outfielder Ryan Lollis leads the Tigers offensively with a .395 average, 13 RBIs and 11 runs.

Early in the season the Cardinals' bullpen has been a position of strength. Beals will need that to continue as the team enters a stretch of 10 games in 10 days.

"They bring a confidence that we're going to be strong in the last three innings of a game," Beals said. "If we're in a close game down the stretch we've got as good a chance as anybody to win the games."

Hammons said the bullpen's experience has allowed them to start the season so well.

"We're veterans on the team," Hammons said. "We did this last year."

After the Cardinal's successful weekend, which included beating Indiana University, the team talked about why it had a good weekend Beals said.

"I told them hard work at practice pays off at game time," Beals said. "We're all willing to do that. We'll pay that price during the week if we know we're going to get that payback on the weekend."

Ball State at Missouri
Game No. 7
First pitch: 7:30 p.m.
Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field
Pitching matchup: RHP Brenden Stines (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (1-1, 1.38)
Weather: 63 degrees, cloudy, from southeast 7 mph

Ball State at Missouri
Game No. 8
First pitch: 2 p.m.
Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field
Pitching matchup: RHP Brad Piatt (1-0, 3.00) vs. RHP Ian Berger (0-1, 6.75)
Weather: 67 degrees, scattered thunderstorms, from SSW 20 mph

Ball State at Missouri
Game No. 9
First pitch: 5 p.m.
Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field
Pitching matchup: RHP Adam Quinn (0-0, 6.75) vs. LHP Kelly Fick (1-2, 4.85)
Weather: 62 degrees, cloudy, from SSW 15 mph

Ball State at Missouri
Game No. 10
First pitch: 2 p.m.
Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (1-1, 6.14) vs. RHP Nick Tepesch (0-1, 6.10)
Weather: 51 degrees, scattered thunderstorms, from west 18 mph