Teddy Cahill

Entering a season loaded with expectations, Ball State University will quickly find how well it measures up with the top teams in the nation.

Ball State opens its season today with a three-game series at the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks started the year ranked No. 15 and reached the final four of the College World Series last year before falling to eventual national champion Louisiana State University.

The series will be played in Baum Stadium, widely regarded as one of the best environments in college baseball. Coach Greg Beals said that was part of his reason for scheduling the series.

"By choosing to go to Arkansas, not only did we want to play that type of caliber of team, but we want to get ourselves in that venue," Beals said. "Our goal is to play in a [NCAA Tournament] Regional, so before we get there I wanted to play in some Regional environments."

Ball State is the preseason favorite in the Mid-American Conference and hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he knows what kind of expectations Ball State is putting on itself.

"They have a lot of returners offensively and pitchers who gained experience," Van Horn said. "I know the lofty goal they have. They're a major challenge for us."

Many of the Razorbacks return from their magical run to Omaha. Included in the returners are center fielder and starting pitcher Brett Eibner, third baseman Zack Cox and first baseman Andy Wilkins, all of whom were named preseason All-Americans. The three stars combined for 44 home runs and 131 RBI last year.

"Those three guys are dangerous and we need to be aware of them," Beals said. "But I want our pitchers to attack them and I want our pitchers to try and get them out."

Many of the Cardinals were able to watch the Razorbacks last year in the NCAA Men's College World Series. Center fielder Cody Elliott said he remembered Eibner's dramatic home run against the University of Virginia that helped Arkansas stave off elimination.

"[They're] a great team," Elliott said. "It will be a big learning experience for us, playing that competition. It will get us ready for when the MAC comes."

Ball State is just excited to get on a field. The team has practiced for the last three weeks in the Field Sports Building.

"It's difficult starting off inside compared to this rubber and then you go to a normal field," shortstop T.J. Baumet said.

However, Arkansas hasn't had much more luck with the weather. Snowstorms across the southern United States have forced the Razorbacks into their indoor football practice facility.

"We've only been on the field as a team once and we hit on the field one other time," Van Horn said Tuesday.

Because of the lack of practice outside and the short period of time before Arkansas begins Southeastern Conference play, Van Horn said he has changed his team's game plan.

Right-hander Mike Bolsinger will start Friday's game, instead of pitching out of the closers spot, like he might later in the year. Eibner will be on a strict pitch count Sunday afternoon.

"We open up conference play so quickly," Van Horn said. "We're going to try and play a lot of kids. We know this is a big challenge."

No matter what Arkansas does or what the results of the series are, Beals expects Ball State to learn from playing quality competition in a great setting.

"Getting a win or two this weekend would be big to the guys to validate the hard work we've put in and who we think we are as a ballclub," he said. "But there's certainly going to be value in this weekend getting outside and playing for the first time."


Ball State at Arkansas
Game No. 1
First pitch: 4:05 p.m.
Baum Stadium
Pitching matchup: RHP Brad Piatt (5-2, 5.34 ERA last year) vs. RHP Mike Bolsinger (6-4, 2.99)
Weather: 46 degrees, rain, south 8 mph

Ball State at Arkansas
Game No. 2
First pitch: 2:05 p.m.
Baum Stadium
Pitching matchup: RHP Cal Bowling (2-1, 7.52) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (3-1, 4.66)
Weather: 41 degrees, cloudy, ESE 5 mph

Ball State at Arkansas
Game No. 3
First pitch: 2:05 p.m.
Baum Stadium
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (4-3, 5.65) vs. RHP Brett Eibner (5-5, 5.00)
Weather: 46 degrees, showers, SSE 7 mph