BASEBALL: Ball State hosts Indiana in home opener
Freshman Bautista, despite little experience, set to take the mound against Hoosiers
After a rough 18-game stretch away from Ball Diamond, Ball State (2-16) plays host to Big Ten Conference foe Indiana (12-7) in its first home game of the 2011 season today at 3 p.m.
Coach Alex Marconi said it's more than a relief to finally play at home.
"We always know that the beginning of the season is going to be a grind for most of the Midwestern schools with all the bus travel," he said. "It's good to be able to stay home and sleep in our own beds and relax a little bit."
Last season the Cardinals fell to the Hoosiers 12-6 in Bloomington. The Hoosiers will make their first trip to Muncie since the Cardinals won 17-4 on April 19, 2005.
The Cardinals enter today's game riding a five-game losing streak, in which they've scored fewer than five runs four times.
The Hoosiers concluded play in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational last week, winning five of their last eight games.
The Hoosiers feature an explosive offense this season. They're averaging 5.74 runs per game and are batting .279 as a team.
"They've got a couple of impact bats," Marconi said. "[We've] got to make sure those guys don't hurt [us] too much. When [we] can, [we're going to] pitch around those guys."
Junior outfielder Alex Dickerson is one of those powerful bats in the Indiana lineup Marconi hinted at.
Dickerson, who is a potential first round pick in this year's Major League Baseball draft, leads the Hoosiers with a .351 batting average. He also has a team-high four home runs and 15 RBIs.
Nonetheless, Marconi said he still plans on attacking the Hoosiers both offensively and defensively. .
The 49th meeting between the two teams will feature a pair of left-handers. Freshman Nestor Bautista (0-1, 11.17 ERA) will take the mound for the Cardinals, while junior Drew Leininger (1-1, 6.11 ERA) will get the call for the Hoosiers.
Bautista, who has pitched a combined 9 2/3 innings for Ball State, will make his second career start today. In his last outing versus Belmont on Sunday, Bautista retired the only batter he faced in the ninth inning.
"He's one of those young guys that we see in that mid-week starter slot," Marconi said. "Hopefully this is an outing for him that shows progress and we can continue to move him and some of our younger guys along.
"If we can get five or six innings out of him like [we did against] Coastal Carolina, then we'd be in position late in the game to win."
Leininger will make his fourth start of the season for the Hoosiers. He has recorded seven strikeouts to eight walks in 17 2/3 innings this season. Today marks Leinenger's first appearance since March 16, when he tossed 5 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on nine hits versus Massachusetts.
The Cardinals have struggled to score runs of late, but Marconi plans on being aggressive on the bases against the Hoosiers.
"If [we] get down a decent amount of runs early, it's tougher to [be aggressive]," Marconi said. "As long as it's a good [and] close ballgame, we're going to be aggressive."
Marconi shrugged at the notion of being concerned about how well his club matches up with its opponent.
"We've got to go out there and play our game," he said. "We've got to go out there and compete. Most times, quite honestly, we're competing against ourselves."