Ball State coach Rich Maloney has hammered away at three keys to victory all season.


Throw strikes, get a timely hit and make routine plays.


His baseball team has been able to do all of those this season, just not consistently.


Seven times this season, Ball State has scored nine or more runs, but 13 times it’s been held to three runs or fewer, including being shutout three times.


The story is similar on the other side of the game. Pitching and defense have had 18 games where three of fewer runs were allowed, but had seven games where 10 or more runs were scored.


The question arises as to what kind of team Maloney has on his hands. The pitchers and defense have had many games this season where opposing batters were stymied, but have also had a lot where Ball State seemingly couldn’t get anyone out.


Although the Cardinals have hit double digits on the scoreboard a few times, there have been several games where the bats went silent.


“Because we don’t have a lot of star power, we weren’t going to be a juggernaut in any area,” Maloney said. “You have to have guys who are proven and put up big numbers and there isn’t anybody on this roster that’s done that.”


Maloney said the reason it’s hard to pinpoint an identity on the team is because not a lot of players stand out.


Ball State has a handful of players who have put up good numbers, but not outstanding. Friday starter Chris Marangon has a season ERA of 4.06 through 10 starts.


Outfielder Sean Godfrey and infielder Billy Wellman are currently batting .320 and .313. Those numbers in baseball are generally considered impressive, but are just No. 24 and 27 in the MAC this season.


“We knew we didn’t have any superlative strength so everybody needed to improve as a unit for us to have a chance,” Maloney said. “The reason we’ve won our games is because we executed the keys, and everybody came to play.”


Maloney stressed his team would develop a more noticeable identity once play becomes more consistent.


The team has been sloppy defensively lately, ruining good offensive and pitching performances. Recently, every time Ball State’s pitching has a great game, the batting falls through and vice versa. 


Maloney said in order for his team to become more consistent, it has to learn to stay focused during every pitch. Players can never take plays off, because that’s when mistakes happen.


Godfrey believes effort has been the one thing consistent about this year.


He said players dive for every ball within reach, always sprint to the bases when the ball is in play, and don’t stop until the game is over.


“Coach wants us to have what he calls a dirt bag mentality,” Godfrey said. “He wants us diving around, giving all effort nonstop. He talks about it all the time and he’s gotten us to truly believe what he’s saying.”


It’s possible that will be the Cardinals’ identity. Maloney’s “dirt bag” mentality, asking his players to give nonstop effort for nine innings, focus on every single pitch, and take advantage when the moment strikes.


It’s a strategy that’s worked for teams in the past. By putting out more effort than the opponent, teams can overcome opponents that are more talented.


A common adage is that hard work beats talent that isn’t working hard. 


“This team always has a lot of hustle,” Ball State outfielder Blake Beemer said. “Coach really enforces it, so we make sure we give it everything we’ve got on every play.”


For now, there’s a Cardinals logo on the front of Ball State’s bright red caps, but there might as well be a question mark because currently, the team lacks an identity.


Even Maloney isn’t too sure what it is.