BASEBALL: Preseason MAC favorites set for weekend series
Ball State heads to struggling Bowling Green
The meeting of the preseason favorites in each of the Mid-American Conference's divisions will take on an unexpected feeling this weekend when Ball State University visits Bowling Green State University.
The Falcons (8-15-1, 2-4) will be looking to turn around their disappointing season against the Cardinals (11-16, 5-1) when the three-game series begins today at 3 p.m.
It's still early in the season, but coach Greg Beals expects to find Bowling Green in a must-win mind set after losing its first two Mid-American Conference series of the year.
"They're playing at home, they're at a time of the season where they probably feel like ‘We need to make a move,'" he said. "It's going to be a very important series for them. They're going to come out with their guns loaded and we've got to make sure we're ready to answer."
Reliever Derek Grabner said the Cardinals can't take the Falcons lightly this weekend.
"With a struggling team, the best thing to do is to hit them while they're down," the junior said.
Ball State took care of business last weekend against Miami University, earning its first sweep of the year. At Bowling Green, Ball State will look to start the MAC season with three straight series victories for the first time since 2005.
Beals said a key to the Cardinals' success will be if their starting pitchers can throw breaking balls for strikes. The Falcons don't have any overpowering hitters; instead they are mostly slap hitters.
"The thing that concerns me most about their offense is their style of hitting as a team," he said. "If [Perci] Garner and [Cal] Bowling pitch the way they did against Miami, they'll be fine."
Bowling Green has some talented pitchers of their own. Reigning MAC Pitcher of the Year Brennan Smith will start Friday for the Falcons. Last year, the Falcons swept the series and Smith allowed just one run in eight innings against the Cardinals.
This year, Smith has struggled to a 1-3 record with a 6.96 ERA this year, but Beals praised the junior.
"He'll be the best conference starter we've seen," Beals said. "He's going to be throwing the ball a little bit harder this year, but he's also walked more guys this year. He's not going to be any different than we've seen in [non-conference play]."
Ball State is tied for first in the MAC West with the University of Toledo and Central Michigan University. Grabner said they want to keep the heat on their competition with another big weekend after a disappointing loss to Indiana University on Tuesday.
"Practice [Wednesday] was very focused on getting back to what we need to do," Grabner said. "Our goal is to take three games from Bowling Green this weekend. The loss to Indiana, while disappointing, can only affect us if we allow it to."
Ball State at Bowling Green at Steller Field
Game No. 28
First pitch: 3 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Perci Garner (3-0, 4.34 ERA) vs. RHP Brennan Smith (1-3, 6.96)
Weather: 48 degrees, mostly cloudy, wind west 18 mph
Game No. 29
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Cal Bowling (1-3, 5.12) vs. RHP Michael Frank (1-1, 4.41)
Weather: 60 degrees, sunny, SSW 15 mph
Game No. 30
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (1-2, 3.55) vs. RHP Kevin Leady (3-1, 4.34)
Weather: 64 degrees, partly cloudy, northwest 7 mph