BASEBALL: Captain steps up in Ball State victory
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio. – All season, Zach Dygert has acted as protection for Kolbrin Vitek in Ball State University's lineup.
Hitting behind the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, Dygert finds himself responsible for making sure opposing teams don't simply pitch around Vitek. Lately, it hasn't been working so well, largely to no fault of Dygert's.
In the final stretch of the regular season and into the MAC Tournament, teams have been unwilling to let Vitek win games by himself.
In Thursday's elimination game, Ohio University made sure Vitek wasn't going to send them home. Instead, it was Dygert, who went 5-for-5 with three RBIs in Ball State's 13-10 victory.
"Zach needs to have days like that to help Kolbrin out, to help Kolbrin get some more pitches," coach Greg Beals said. "Vitek's been pitched extremely hard for about three weeks."
Dygert ended the game just a triple short of the cycle and hit a monstrous two-run home run in the ninth inning. The captain said he saw mostly fastballs from the Bobcats' pitchers, which he was able to take advantage of.
"I didn't hit them all very hard, but sometimes they fall in and sometimes they don't," Dygert said. "Baseball kind of works like that sometimes."
In the end, however, Vitek still found a way to beat Ohio. The junior struck out Bobcats' star Gauntlett Eldemire, who represented the tying run, to end the game and pick up his third save.
Pitching update: Ball State always knew it would need someone outside its starting rotation to win a game to take home the MAC championship.
But falling into the losers' bracket Wednesday may have hastened that necessity. The Cardinals were forced to call on Vitek to close Thursday's victory after a depleted bullpen struggled to hold big leads.
Knowing the rocky state of his bullpen and the need for a win from an unexpected source, Beals is considering the possibility of starting Brad Piatt against Bowling Green on Friday. Piatt was Ball State's Opening Day starter, but has since fallen out the rotation. He is 3-4 with a 7.62 ERA.
Ball State has already snuck through one elimination game without starting Vitek, who had the best ERA in the MAC during conference play. Should the Cardinals try to make it through a second such game, Beals said he would not leave Vitek on the bench if they needed him.
"We won't go home without him pitching again," Beals said.
Beat the heat: Near-record high temperatures in the Chillicothe, Ohio, area made for tough conditions Thursday.
VA Memorial Stadium has a field turf surface, which can increase temperatures even more. A blazing sun and cloudless sky didn't help matters either.
"The sun's beating down pretty good on us," Dygert said. "I'm roasting right now."
For Ohio coach Joe Carbone, the heat was a welcome change from the weather MAC schools usually are competing in.
"We're used to keeping warm," he said. "I think guys' true ability will show out. Guys that are too tired or too hot to play aren't true players anyway."
No break in the weather is coming for the tournament. Temperatures are forecasted to remain in the mid to upper 80s throughout the weekend.