BASEBALL: Ball State to host NIU in pivotal series
The Daily News
The Ball State baseball team will compete for the Mid-American Conference West’s No. 1 spot this week. A three-game series beginning on Thursday will set the stage for two of the league’s biggest surprises.
The 2013 MAC baseball preseason poll, voted on by the conference’s 12 head coaches, tabbed Ball State to finish fifth of six teams in the MAC West.
The only team that fell below Ball State in the preseason poll was the team that currently leads the division: Northern Illinois.
The Huskies lead Ball State by two games heading into the regular season’s final series.
Coach Rich Maloney said his team’s first priority is to get one win in the series, as to clinch a spot in postseason play. From there, the sky is the limit.
“Right now we’re one win away from the playoffs, and on top of that we’re actually going into a weekend that if someway, somehow we’re able to put together a great weekend, we could win the west division,” he said.
If Ball State sweeps Northern Illinois, they will stand alone as division champions.
The Cardinals have won seven of their last nine games to climb up in the league’s standings. Now a team that was not favored coming into the season, or even at the season’s halfway point, is a contender at the end of the year.
“We’ve put ourselves into good position going into the series,” Maloney said.
A big part of the team’s success has been sophomore pitcher Scott Baker. He has posted a 10-1 record in the circle for Ball State this season.
Baker now owns a 1.69 ERA on the year with 78 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. The sophomore will continue to play an important roll as the team prepares for Northern Illinois.
“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got and see if Baker can help pitch a great game,” Maloney said. “He’s had a phenomenal year, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Huskies will bring their own dominant pitcher into the all-important series. Eli Anderson is 9-3 on the season, with a perfect 8-0 mark in MAC play. His ERA in league play is .91, as he’s allowed just 11 runs in his eight games.
A pair of teams that failed to make the 2012 MAC Tournament field now find themselves competing for a 2013 division title that few thought either was capable of taking.
“It’s going to be a great battle between two teams that haven’t had a lot of success in the recent past,” Maloney said.
The teams will play at 3 p.m. today and Friday, with the series finale to be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday.