BASEBALL: Ball State drops another series finale
Cardinals' five-game winning streak snapped Sunday
Closing out series has been a problem all year for Ball State University, but it has always stayed upbeat, happy to be winning series.
That refrain ended Sunday at Ball Diamond. Ball State lost yet another series finale, snapping its five-game winning streak with a 10-5 loss to Eastern Michigan. Instead of being happy they had won six straight Mid-American Conference series for their best start to conference play since 2005, the Cardinals focused on their missed opportunity.
"We won the series [Saturday]," coach Greg Beals said. "There was a game to play today and we needed to win today's game."
With the loss, Ball State (22-22, 13-5) dropped into a first place tie with the University of Toledo. Eastern Michigan (22-23, 11-7) also was able to cling to its hopes of a division title, pulling within two games of the leaders in fourth place.
Ball State opened the game looking like they would be able to finish up their second sweep of the season. Though Kolbrin Vitek (2-4) allowed two runs in the top of the first, Eastern Michigan starter Kendall Lewis (6-2) struggled mightily with his command in the bottom of the inning.
Lewis, the National Pitcher of the Week after an 11-inning shutout last week, walked five Cardinals in the first. But with the bases loaded and two runs home, third baseman Stephen Claypool grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Eastern Michigan added two more runs in the second and again induced an inning-ending double play, albeit an unusual one, in the bottom of the inning. With one out and runners on first and third, Vitek chased a pitch in the dirt for strike three. But he began to run to first base, which sent Blake Beemer hesitantly to second. Eagles' catcher Matt Skirving threw to second, but the ball was cutoff and returned to home plate to cut down T.J. Baumet trying to score.
"We let [Lewis] off the hook big time," Beals said. "We should have knocked him out of the game in the first two innings. We allowed him the opportunity to settle in."
The Cardinals would pull even again in the fourth inning, but was unable to take the lead. Eastern Michigan left fielder Ken Battiston, who had watched plenty of home runs go over his head in the first two games of the series, broke the tie for good in the sixth with a two-run shot.
Only two Ball State batters reached base after the fourth inning. Except for two errors, Lewis retired the lineup in order the last time he faced it. Reliever Steve Weber continued the trend, retiring the final nine Cardinals to earn his first save.
"I think [Lewis] made an adjustment, but it was also about us not keeping the approach" Kory Benbow said.
Ball State has lost three of its last four series finales, including its only two losses at Ball Diamond this year. Those losses can add up in the MAC standings, which the Cardinals are keeping a close watch on.
"We're always looking at them," Vitek said. "You've got to keep an eye on that at all times, but we've just got to keep winning games."