BASEBALL: Tournament gamble doesn't pay, Ball State eliminated from MAC Tournament
Cardinals lose for second time in three days to end season
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio – Doubling down on Ball State University's gamble, Bowling Green State University took an early morning prize back to its hotel Friday.
The Falcons used five doubles in the first four innings to take a four-run lead in the 9 a.m. elimination game. Bowling Green would hold on for a 7-4 victory, ending Ball State's season.
It was the falcons' second victory against the Cardinals in this year's tournament. Bowling Green won the opening game 6-4 Wednesday.
The Falcons did their early damage against Brad Piatt and Heath Riley after coach Greg Beals made the decision to start Piatt over MAC Player of the Year Kolbrin Vitek. The junior got the final out of Thursday's game, and would eventually come in Friday in the fifth inning. Vitek finished the game, allowing two runs in five innings.
With Ball State in the losers' bracket, Beals knew Piatt would have to win a game for the Cardinals to bring a trophy back to Muncie. He hoped to use Vitek to shore up a bullpen depleted by injuries and a long season.
"We took a shot at it," Beals said. "You can look back at it and think I should have started Vitek, and in hindsight, sure that looks like that might have been a great idea. But not only are we trying to win this game, we're trying to win the whole tournament, too."
But the Falcons were able to jump on Piatt early in the game. Bowling Green was unable to solve Piatt in the first inning, but a leadoff single and a walk in the second would come back to bite the senior. Matthew Pittzulo roped a double bringing home the first two runs of the game.
Three consecutive two-out doubles in the third inning brought home two more Falcons' runs. Piatt gave up four runs in three innings, leaving him without a victory in a conference game since May 8 last year.
Despite the result, Vitek said Beals made the right decision Friday.
"I felt that was the right decision," Vitek said. "We needed five strong innings out of Piatt eventually this weekend. Coming out of the bullpen was fine with me."
Bowling Green again used a quality pitching performance to defeat Ball State in the conference tournament. Wednesday, Brennan Smith controlled the Cardinals bats. Friday, Cody Apthorpe picked up where the Falcons left off in the first round. The right-hander allowed two runs in six innings, keeping Ball State off balance all game.
Apthorpe twice worked through two-out jams, including striking out Ian Nielsen to leave the bases loaded in the third inning.
"We had a few opportunities if we get a big hit, it would have made a big difference in the game," Beals said. "They were able to get a couple big hits to make a difference."
In two games against Bowling Green in Chillicothe, Ohio, Ball State managed just six runs and 12 hits. The Falcons were a much different team than what the Cardinals saw the first two times the teams played this year. Ball State scored 44 runs against Bowling Green, including a program-record 32 runs April 10.
Since that offensive explosion, however, it has been a different story. The Falcons have won all three meetings and the Cardinals have put just nine runs on the board. Their highest total for runs in those games was four.
After Ball State lit up the scoreboard in April, Bowling Green was forced to go back to the drawing board to get outs against the Cardinals.
"They attacked the zone more, used more off speed," Vitek said.
Ball State, the preseason MAC favorites, ended a once-promising season with losses in five of its last seven games. The stretch included a devastating series loss at the University of Toledo on the last weekend of the regular season that cost Ball State a regular season conference championship.
Beals had hoped a tight series with Toledo to end the regular season would help Ball State in Chillicothe, but it could never get on track in the tournament.
"I thought it would give us some confidence of being in some tough games like that," Beals said. "We just couldn't find a way to win a couple big games down the stretch."
Friday's loss hastened the end of the college careers of some of Ball State's most valuable players. Vitek and All-MAC catcher Zach Dygert will not return to the Cardinals next year, lost to the MLB draft and graduation. Ace Perci Garner is another likely draft casualty.
Vitek, a projected first-round pick, reflected on his three years in a Cardinals' uniform that ended a little sooner than he would have liked.
"It's hard to take in," Vitek said. "It's been a great three years; it's been great playing with the team."