Junior infielder for the Ball State Cardinals Alex Maloney attempts to hit the ball during the game against Dayton on March 18. DN PHOTO GRACE RAMEY
Cardinals beat WMU 7-2, Plesac ties career-high
Junior right-handed pitcher Zach Plesac tied his career total with 11 strikeouts in Ball State’s 7-2 win over Western Michigan.
Head coach Rich Maloney said it was an important victory because Western Michigan starter Keegan Akin entered the game with the lowest ERA (1.43) and the most strikeouts (58) in the Mid-American Conference.
“It’s a big win because Akin’s been dominating the league,” he said. "You’re talking about one of the top pitching prospects in the league, and we did a good job on him.”
Ball State’s lineup worked four walks against the 6-foot, 1-inch lefty and consistently worked deep into the count – Akin threw 120 pitches in 6.1 innings on the mound, with 72 strikes and 58 balls. He struck out seven Cardinals and now has a 2.14 ERA after being credited with five earned runs.
The Cardinals led 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh with one out when junior right fielder Alex Call, who had already extended his hitting streak to 15 games in the second inning, doubled to left field. Junior shortstop Alex Maloney then worked a 2-0 count before Western Michigan coach Billy German pulled Akin in the middle of the at bat.
Junior right-handed reliever Kyle Mallwitz took over on the mound for the Broncos but threw a wild pitch with a 3-1 count against Alex Maloney.
With Call now on third and Alex Maloney on first, junior first baseman Caleb Stayton launched a high fly ball to shallow center field. Call took off toward home as senior center fielder Drew Farmer’s throw sailed wide, skipping past the cutoff man while Alex Maloney advanced to second on the RBI sacrifice fly.
Rich said the Cardinals, who also stole three bases on five attempts, were being more aggressive than usual.
“I mean when you play against a guy like that, you don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get,” he said. “We actually got a few more than we expected. When you think highly of another guy’s pitcher, you’ve got to play to win.”
In the next at bat, the Cardinals’ aggression continued with Alex Maloney advancing to third after another Mallwitz wild pitch, this one with junior catcher Jarett Rindfleisch at the plate.
Alex Maloney took a couple of hard steps toward home as Mallwitz kicked up his leg. Mallwitz’s side-arm delivery was rushed, and the ball left his fingertips at a slightly higher arm slot than usual.
He missed his spot and senior catcher Mitchell Ho couldn’t adjust in time. The ball nicked Ho’s glove and sailed to the backstop on a passed ball, allowing Alex Maloney to cross the plate and increase the lead, 5-2.
Akin was credited with the walk and the run because he started the at bat against Alex Maloney, even though Mallwitz’s pitch sent him to first base.
Western Michigan pitchers threw four wild pitches in the game, while the defense committed two errors and was credited with a passed ball. Rich said it was just the “law of averages” catching up with a Broncos defense that entered the game with the best fielding percentage (.988) in the country.
“They’re gonna make some errors because, come on, nobody’s .988,” he said. “Fortunately, we were the beneficiary of some of that, but, overall, I thought we were pretty solid in all facets.”
Plesac also ran a high pitch count with 119 pitches over eight innings. The Broncos tallied six hits, two walks and two runs, both earned, against Plesac, who is now 3-1 on the season with a 3.71 ERA.
Rich said he was pleased that his bullpen was only needed for one inning.
“When you don’t have to use your ‘pen, and they used three total, it’s always good,” he said. “Especially on the first day, if you can get that many guys out there, it’s a good thing.”
Ball State and Western Michigan will finish the series with a doubleheader Sunday. The first game is scheduled to start at 10 a.m., with the second game immediately following.