BASEBALL: Slumping Ball State hosts MAC-powerhouse Kent State this weekend
Golden Flashes have won three conference titles in a row
Whatever momentum Ball State gained by snapping its seven-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory at Akron on Sunday appears to have dissipated.
Since the Cardinals eked out their fourth win of the season with a suicide squeeze in the 12th inning Sunday, they have lost a pair of midweek games by a combined score of 28-8. The second of those losses came in Ball State's home opener Wednesday, which Indiana State won 14-3.
Things don't get any easier for Ball State (4-16) this weekend, when it welcomes Kent State to Muncie for a three-game Mid-American Conference series. The Golden Flashes (11-12) are three-time reigning conference champions and swept their first MAC series last weekend.
Though Kent State lost several key pieces from the team that came within one victory from reaching Super Regionals last season, it is still considered the team to beat in the MAC. The Golden Flashes were picked to win their fourth-straight MAC Tournament title in the preseason coaches' poll, an honor Ball State coach Alex Marconi agrees with.
"They're always going to be at the top, pretty much every single year," Marconi said. "Sometimes at the very top, sometimes second, third or fourth, but they're going to be at the top. And that's who everyone is shooting for.
"That's the gold standard for the MAC and it always has been."
Because Ball State and Kent State have not played since 2009, this will be the first time Marconi will compete against his alma mater as a head coach. For Marconi, this comes on the heels of coaching against Rick Rembielak, his college coach last weekend in Akron.
"It's always fun to play your alma mater," Marconi said.
Pitching has long been a hallmark of the Golden Flashes and this year is no exception. Even after seeing three pitchers get drafted in the first 10 rounds last June, Kent State simply reloaded on the mound. The Golden Flashes' rotation is anchored by senior left-hander David Starn, who is just 13 strikeouts shy of passing former major leaguer Dirk Hayhurst for the school's career record.
Kent State filled the next two spots in its rotation with a pair of transfers - junior right-hander Ryan Bores and redshirt freshman right-hander Tyler Skulina. Both Bores and Skulina have been previously drafted and are coming off great starts against Northern Illinois. Bores allowed one unearned run on three hits in eight innings last Saturday, while Skulina gave up a pair of unearned runs on four hits in 5/23 innings Sunday.
None of that is good news for the Cardinals' struggling offense. Ball State has scored just 68 runs in 20 games this season and is the only team in the MAC averaging fewer than four runs per game.
Ball State vs. Kent State
Game No. 21
First pitch: Friday 3 p.m.
Pitching matchup: LHP David Starn (4-2, 1.99 ERA) vs. RHP Cal Bowling (2-2, 3.68)
Weather: 66 degrees, scattered thunderstorms, southwest 16 mph
Game No. 22
First pitch: Saturday 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Ryan Bores (3-2, 5.81) vs. RHP T.J. Weir (0-5, 9.35)
Weather: 48 degrees, partly cloudy, northeast 6 mph
Game No. 23
First pitch: Sunday 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Tyler Skulina (2-2, 3.00) vs. TBA
Weather: 79 degrees, sunny, southwest 10 mph