BASEBALL: Tough schedule pays off as Ball State upsets No. 10 Louisville
Garner earns win relieving Vitek in last game of weekend series
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Greg Beals put together a demanding schedule for Ball State University this year, hoping to prepare them for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
But playing top-15 teams can wear on a team's emotions as the losses mount. Beals saw that happen after the first game of Saturday's doubleheader at No. 10 University of Louisville. Ball State had just dropped its third straight game, and needed something to get it back on track before Mid-American Conference play begins this weekend.
"Some of these games, they've been tough on us," Beals said. "I'm trying to help our guys work their way through that. I just feel like our guys haven't leaned on each other, and what I said is ‘I think we need to start loving each other a little bit better, be behind each other and understand that all 30 of us are in this together.'"
Ball State pulled together in the second game Saturday and won 5-1. The victory was Ball State's second on the road against a ranked team this year. Reliever Perci Garner threw four innings for the victory and said the support was much better in the second game.
"After going 0-2 to start [the series], we were kind of down," the sophomore said. "Coach talked about loving each other. We really did that in the second game and it helped."
Ball State (6-13) could use some love after completing their last nonconference series of the year. According to boydsworld.com, the Cardinals have played the 27th hardest schedule in the country. They are 2-6 against the top-15 teams of University of Arkansas, Coastal Carolina University and Louisville.
Beals said its part of his job to keep the team together through the tough parts of the season.
"Sometimes the pressure starts getting to you when you're not winning," he said. "I felt like we needed to get tighter knit as a team and get behind each other."
Saturday's victory was a team effort. Starting pitcher Kolbrin Vitek threw four scoreless innings before he was removed. Garner said he wanted to keep going what Vitek started.
"I just wanted to come out and throw strikes," Garner said. "[Vitek] did a good job of that. Its easy when you've got the lead to come in and just keep it going well."
Ball State also got production from all areas of its lineup. With Vitek on the mound and third baseman Stephen Claypool out with an injury, utility infielders Tim Issler and Mitch Widau both started the game and drove in the first two runs of the game.
"Both of them are playing in roles, they're not everyday roles but they're going to have their opportunities," Beals said. "Both those guys did a great job of taking advantage of that opportunity today."
With a complete effort, Ball State became just the second team to defeat Louisville, and the first to do it at Jim Patterson Stadium. No. 22 University of Mississippi also beat Louisville.
With only Tuesday's game at the University of Notre Dame between Ball State and the start of the MAC season, Garner said Saturday's victory gives it confidence at an important time.
"It creates a lot of momentum," he said. "We enjoyed this part of our schedule, but we're ready to play the MAC and get a championship."