BASEBALL: Ball State focusing on MAC play after slow start
Cardinals improving with quick start to conference season
Its overall record of 4-18 sounds alarming, but in reality, Ball State (2-1) is one win shy of a share of first place in the Mid-American Conference West division.
With his team now able to practice outside and with 22 games under his belt, coach Alex Marconi believes the Cardinals are on the same playing field as every other team.
"We're always at a disadvantage because we're practicing inside," Marconi said. "We have limited practice time. We've got to get all of our young guys up to speed as quickly as possible. Those guys [down south] have been outside for months, and they get as much time as they want within the rules."
"Now we're all on equal ground. We've all had the same things we're battling against, like the weather. May the best man win."
Marconi will be the first to admit that his team is far from perfect. However, Ball State has improved its play over the past week.
The Cardinals have won two of their last three games and currently sit in third place in their division.
Last weekend, all three starting pitchers made quality outings. Friday, junior righty Cal Bowling tossed a one-run, two-hit complete game versus Ohio. Over his last three starts, Bowling has allowed just six earned runs on 12 hits in 19 2/3 innings.
Senior lefty Derek Grabner worked 5 1/3 innings and allowed just one earned run Saturday. The left-hander has worked into the sixth inning in each of his last three starts.
Fifth-year senior Morgan Coombs is growing stronger with every start. Coombs pitched six innings of four-hit baseball in the series finale Sunday, notching his first win of the season.
The pitching staff is not the only dimension of the team seeing improvement. The bats are coming around as well.
Redshirt freshman Billy Wellman is currently on a four-game hit streak for the Cardinals, going 5-for-15 in the span.
Another Cardinal that is on a hot streak is sophomore captain Blake Beemer. Over the last seven games, Beemer has gone 6-for-18, with three runs scored and four RBI.
Being eager at the plate is OK with Marconi, but he would like his hitters to be more selective.
"I want our guys to be aggressive when they're ahead in the count," Marconi said. "If we can do that and capitalize on it, then great. But they also know that I don't want them aggressive in the count and hitting a three-hopper to the shortstop. If you line out, that's a different thing.
"That's the thing we're battling [and] trying to figure out is how to be aggressive, how to have productive outs [and] be patient at the plate."
One thing Ball State has never done this season is quit on themselves, no matter who they're up against, or what the score is.
The Cardinals battled back twice versus Ohio last weekend.
In Game 1, the Cardinals were down by a run for the first eight innings before winning in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth.
In Game 2, the Cardinals trailed by one run in the bottom of the sixth before knotting the game at 3-3 and then again at 4-4 before a ninth inning rally fell short.
"That's a great sign because as these guys mature and get older, they're going to carry that with them," Marconi said. "If we can continue to do that, [and] when we feel like we're a very good team, these guys are going to be dangerous."