Teddy Cahill

Ian Nielsen's decision to transfer to Taylor University on Friday left a gaping hole in Ball State University's lineup, but Alex Marconi is confident it will be filled.

Marconi was already facing the difficult task of replacing the Cardinals third and fourth hitters, including Kolbrin Vitek, the 20th player taken in June's MLB Draft. Nielsen's departure means the third-sixth hitters in Ball State's 2010 lineup will not return in 2011.

"We've got some talented kids coming in and some good hitters coming back," Marconi said. "It might take a little bit, but we'll fill it adequately."

Marconi reiterated Nielsen's stunning decision was based on his desire to attend a Christian school and grow in his faith and not the coaching change. Marconi was hired to replace Greg Beals, who left to become coach at Ohio State University in June.

Nielsen had considered transferring to a Christian school in previous years. Marconi said he had an idea Nielsen might actually go through with it after the Cardinals' season ended at the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

"I knew it was on his mind," Marconi said. "I wasn't sure how serious he was."

Ball State doesn't have a readily-available replacement for the former Freshman All-American first baseman. Nielsen has been an integral part of the Cardinals' lineup since hitting a home run in his first collegiate at bat. In the last two seasons, Nielsen hit .339 with 20 home runs and 111 RBIs in 109 games.

Marconi said he will look at a "handful" of possible first basemen in fall ball before deciding who will play there next year. Included in that group will be Ball State's two highly-regarded recruits, Kenny Mahala and Cody Campbell.

Another possibility is Blake Beemer, the only other first baseman listed on the 2010 roster. Beemer, however, became the Cardinals' starting right fielder and earned a Freshman All-American nomination. Marconi would like to keep him in right field, where his arm is a big asset.

"Blake is always a possibility," he said. "He did play great in right field and ideally I'd like to keep him out there."

One thing is certain, however. Nielsen's replacement will not be a late addition to the team. Even though Marconi knew early in the summer Nielsen intended to transfer, Ball State's coaching change made it impossible to recruit another first baseman.

"It was a kind of a unique situation," he said. "Once Beals and [pitching coach Mike] Stafford left, there was no head coach. I was not in a good position to hand out scholarships."