Last season, Ball State finished near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference standings at just 9-18.


This season, they’ll look to turn it around when they start MAC play this weekend against Akron at Ball Diamond.


Coach Rich Maloney refers to conference play as the regular season. He’s used the non-conference portion of the schedule to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his team, and what players to go to in specific situations.


Maloney was happy about where his team is sitting heading into MAC play.


“To know that we’re sitting at 10 wins and eight losses at this point, we have to feel pretty good,” Maloney said. “Especially considering where we were when we started the season.”


Ball State had a number of unknown variables a month ago when they played their first game. Pitchers Nestor Bautista and Scott Baker were taking over for Cal Bowling and T.J. Weir.


Bautista has struggled, but Baker has had one of the hottest starts in the country. At 5-0, Baker is tied with a handful of other starters for the second best record in Division-I baseball.


Chris Marangon, the Cardinals’ Friday starter, is the only pitcher who returns to the pitching rotation from last season.


After posting a 3.75 ERA last season, he’s dropped it down to 2.51. As the team’s Friday starter, he said he feels responsibility, knowing that others are watching him.


“If you’re not ready and not prepared, it’s not going to reflect well and some players will follow that lead,” Marangon said. “My job is to try to do a good job and get a win on Friday, and hold them to as few runs as possible so we can tack on a few.”


Maloney’s pitchers have been strong so far this season, especially throwing when it’s come to throwing strikes.


Ball State has struck out 128 batters in their first 18 games.


Throwing strikes is one of Maloney’s keys to winning, which also includes getting timely hits and not botching routine plays.


His team has done them all lately, getting two walk-off hits last weekend, and holding a .975 fielding percentage.


Maloney said that when those three come together, his team will always have a chance to win the game.


Taking two of those three games each weekend results in winning the series, and can lead to the team competing for a MAC title at the end of the season.


“It’s not so much the opponent we’re playing in the MAC or the opponent when we were playing a team like South Carolina,” Maloney said. “As much as it is to be the best we can be within our group. It’s something I’ve said to my players over and over again this season.”


Once MAC play starts, the stakes are raised. The conference schedule is what teams will be graded on, as it decides if a team gets into the conference tournament.


Ball State expects most of its MAC games to be close, and Maloney expects the majority of games to come down to who ever can execute the key play when necessary.


He’s preached fundamentals as the vital component to being a consistently successful team, saying that he wants to have the team that’s more mentally sound then his opponent.


“Doing just enough more than the other team to give us at least a one run advantage at the end of the day,” Maloney said. “That’s the challenge and it’s hard to do. Lately, we’ve been finding ways to do that.”



Marge:

Ball State Schedule:

Friday, Mar. 22 vs. Akron. First pitch: 3:00

Saturday, Mar. 23 vs. Akron. First pitch: 1:00

Sunday, Mar. 24 vs. Akron. First pitch: 1:00

Top Batters:

Jr. Cody Campbell: .313, 20 H, 13 R, 13 RBI, 5 BB, 

Jr. T.J. Weir: .309, 21 H, 13 R, 11 RBI, 9 BB

R JR: Billy Wellman: .276, 16 H, 8 R, 14 RBI, 4 BB