BASEBALL: Cards lose Sunday nailbiter, but win series vs. Bulls
Ball State remains one game behind Central Michigan in MAC West race
A series sweep again eluded Ball State University this weekend, but the Cardinals will take another series victory in Mid-American Conference play.
Ball State (16-19, 9-3) won the first two games of its series against the University at Buffalo (16-17, 4-8) before falling 11-7 in 11 innings Sunday. The Cardinals have won their first four MAC series for the first time since 2005.
Sunday's loss dropped Ball State a game behind Central Michigan University in the MAC West, but coach Greg Beals feels good about where his team is in the race.
"I feel like we're right where we need to be," Beals said. "We're in position if we win each series, I think we'll be in great shape. Winning series is going to be awfully good in the West."
The Cardinals rolled to an 11-5 victory Friday behind its offense and a gutsy performance from starting pitcher Perci Garner. Five players had two hits each for the Cardinals, and Garner went six innings for his fifth victory of the year.
Ball State clinched the series win Saturday, defeating Buffalo 6-5. The Cardinals scored the final six runs of the game to win with center fielder Cody Elliott delivering the big blow. Elliott hit a solo home run to lead off the sixth inning. The homer proved to be the game-winning run for the Cardinals.
"We've been working on it a lot in the cages," he said. "Just trying to stay inside the ball, I've been getting jammed a little bit."
Looking for a sweep Sunday, Ball State was unable to hang on to its lead in a back-and-forth game. The Cardinals led 4-1 after four innings, but the Bulls chipped away until taking the lead in the eighth.
Bulls' third baseman Alex Baldock greeted reliever Heath Riley with a double to lead off the inning. Right fielder David Neff laid down a sacrifice bunt, but after Riley fielded it and started towards first base he flipped the ball to second baseman Mitch Widau, who was covering the bag. Widau didn't catch the ball and Buffalo pinch runner Jason Kanzler raced around to score.
"It's just kind of a game situation that they just botched a little bit," Beals said. "We had that play well in hand, and we let it slip away from us."
Neff would score later in the inning, giving Buffalo a 5-4 lead.
Ball State wasn't done yet. Elliott hit a two-out home run to tie the game in the bottom of the inning.
Buffalo scored two more runs in the ninth inning off relievers Jon Cisna and Aaron Hammons, but Brian Pullyblank was unable to close out the game for the Bulls.
Designated hitter Kolbrin Vitek reached first on an error, and Dygert followed with a two-run blast to left field.
"He threw me a bad slider," the captain said. "I thought we might be able to get another run across and end the game there."
However, Pullyblank settled down and got three outs to send the game to extra innings. After a scoreless 10th, Buffalo scored four runs in the 11th off Scott Brothers (2-2).
Ball State has failed to finish sweeps in each of the past two weeks. Dygert said the Cardinals aren't thinking about it because it's so difficult to sweep a team in college baseball.
"Last week, we ran into a pitcher who threw pretty well against us," he said. "This week, we just didn't play very well. We just didn't make many plays [Sunday]. That's baseball; you win some, you lose some. We feel like we're in a good position to win the conference."