BASEBALL: Ball State looking for upset at No. 10 Louisville
Cardinals expect nonconference experience to help during MAC play
Enduring back-to-back 3-2 losses during Spring Break at then-No. 12 Coastal Carolina University was difficult for Ball State University to swallow.
But after the second loss to the Chanticleers, coach Greg Beals reminded the Cardinals why they play some of the best teams in the country.
"After the [Coastal Carolina] game, coach said ‘This is going to prepare us in the long run for MAC play,'" reliever Perci Garner said.
Ball State will face another highly-ranked opponent this weekend when it travels to No. 10 University of Louisville (15-1).
Ball State (5-11) has already played five games on the road against opponents ranked in the top 15. It is 1-4 in those games, scoring a 5-2 upset of the University of Arkansas on Feb. 20.
The Cardinals had their chance to add at least another victory against a ranked opponent against the Chanticleers, but were unable to find a way to win either game. Left fielder Kory Benbow said the difference was defense.
"We didn't have an error all weekend," the senior said. "That's the big thing, against teams like that you're not getting away with one or two errors a game. You've got to play from the first pitch to the last pitch. Any little mistake we make, they're more likely to take advantage of than any MAC school."
The three-game series at Louisville is Ball State's last non-conference series of the season. It will start the Mid-American Conference season next weekend at Ohio University.
"It's going to be a great experience playing Louisville," Beals said. "On paper, they might be the best team we play all year. All this experience against this competition is going to serve us well once we get into the Mid-American Conference."
With the more important part of the season coming up, Beals is not taking any injury risks this weekend. Starting pitcher Morgan Coombs will not play this weekend due to elbow tendinitis.
"We're going to nurse Morgan a little bit this weekend," Beals said. "I think he could pitch if we absolutely needed him to, but we're going to rest him. If he's ready to go on Friday at Ohio, he'll be the Friday starter."
But Ball State is still thinking big. Louisville started the year on a 14-game winning streak, before losing its only game of the season last Saturday at No. 20 University of Mississippi.
Benbow said Ball State has plenty of confidence going into the series.
"I think it'd be real good for us to go down and take two out of three," he said. "I think everyone on the team believes we can do it and I think everyone is going to go in with that attitude."
Louisville will be without center fielder Josh Richmond and first baseman Andrew Clark. The pair has missed a combined 17 games with injuries.
However, the hosts will still have plenty of firepower. All-American Phil Wunderlich leads the team with 21 RBI and is tied for the team lead with six home runs. Second baseman Adam Duvall also has six home runs and leads the team with a .413 average.
"They're going to be a great team," Beals said. "Coach McDonald does a great job down there and I have a lot of respect for what they're doing."
Ball State has not travelled south to Louisville for a weekend series since 2006, but the two teams have played midweek games the last three years. Ball State lost 5-4 in 12 innings last year.
Benbow said the challenge of facing a team like Louisville is much different in a weekend series than in a midweek game.
"The thing I'm interested in seeing, is how their front-line pitchers are as opposed to their midweek pitching," Benbow said. "I think that's going to be the biggest difference."
Garner said having a good weekend in Louisville would be a big boost before heading to Ohio next week.
"I think if we could get something this weekend it would mean a lot for our confidence," he said. "I look at confidence as being the key to college sports."
Ball State at Louisville at Jim Patterson Stadium
Game No. 17
First pitch: 3 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Brad Piatt (0-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. RHP Thomas Royse (3-0, 0.74)
Weather: 66 degrees, sunny, southwest nine mph
Game No. 18
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Cal Bowling (0-2, 6.25) vs. LHP Dean Kiekhefer (1-1, 4.95)
Weather: 62 degrees, cloudy, SSW 10 mph
Game No. 19
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (0-2, 5.71) vs. RHP Tony Zych (1-0, 9.64)
Weather: 51 degrees, showers, SSW 10 mph