BASEBALL: Bullpen falters as Blazers win four-game set
Relievers struggle, but Cardinals confident they can rebound
The weekend started well for Ball State University and its bullpen.
Right-handers Perci Garner, Seth Hobbs and Morgan Coombs combined for 5 1/3 innings of relief, allowing just one run. The strong pitching allowed Ball State to defeat the University of Alabama at Birmingham 9-5 Friday night.
After that win, however, the Cardinals bullpen struggled and Ball State (2-5) lost the final three games of the series.
Ball State got solid starts from Cal Bowling, Scott Brothers Jr. and Kolbrin Vitek, but all three came away without a victory. In the final three games, nine relievers combined to go 0-2 with three blown saves, a 9.75 ERA and 17 walks in 12 innings of work.
"I thought the pitching staff as a whole was good," coach Greg Beals said. "We got three great starts. We just had some lapses in the bullpen that cost us two games. In the third and fourth games, we had good leads and were playing good baseball, and the bullpen couldn't hold it."
The Cardinals lost 6-0 in game one of Saturday's doubleheader and dropped the nightcap 10-9 in 12 innings. Sunday, UAB (3-2) came from behind to win 6-5.
Ball State's bullpen was stretched by the doubleheader Saturday. The Cardinals were without closer Aaron Hammons for the second weekend in a row to open the season. Hammons' injury forced coach Greg Beals to use different pitchers at the end of games.
"It would have helped having Hammons," he said. "But we just didn't have a couple young men come in and perform. It wasn't the pitching staff as a whole and it wasn't the bullpen as a whole."
Vitek said his teammates simply need to be ready when called upon.
"We just reminded them that they need to come in and do their jobs," the junior said. "They need to throw strikes. That's their job."
Beals was able to take lots of positives out of the weekend because of strong performance in other areas of the club. Except for being shutout in the first game Saturday, Ball State scored enough runs to win and its starting pitchers kept them in every game.
Vitek, a preseason All-American, stood out again. He hit two home runs and drove in four runs against UAB. Vitek is hitting .438 and slugging .844 through the first seven games.
"I've just been keeping up the same swing I've been working on all winter long and taking it to the plate in games," he said.
Learning from the series loss is important, Beals said. Ball State will play nine games in its Spring Break trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and it needs to be ready.
"We've seen what those guys can do," Beals said. "Now [the coaching staff] needs to make better decisions in the future with what we've learned."