Caleb Stayton, a junior catcher and first baseman for the Ball State Cardinals, attempts to hit the ball while up to bat in the game against Ohio on April 1. Ball State will play against defending national champion Coastal Carolina on Feb. 24 in Conway, South Carolina. Grace Ramey // DN File
PREVIEW: Ball State baseball takes on defending national champion Coastal Carolina
Ball State baseball takes on defending national champion Coastal Carolina Friday, and senior catcher and first baseman Caleb Stayton said the Cardinals won't be intimidated.
“We expect to win,” Stayton said. “If we don’t expect to win, then why are we driving 12 hours down there to play?”
Coastal Carolina is 2-3 on the season, but Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said he expects Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore, who was named 2016 National Coach of the Year by six different organizations and has won more than 1,100 games in his career, to have his team ready.
Ball State statistics
Team batting average: .257
Runs per game: 5.0
Team ERA: 3.67
“Trust me, right now they’re like a hornets’ nest," Maloney said before Coastal Carolina beat Charleston 16-7 Wednesday. "We’re going in at a time — I would much rather have them be 4-0 ... because they’re going to be really hungry to get back on the winning track and they’re not used to losing three in a row very often.”
Ball State is 2-1 after beating then-No. 22 Maryland Feb. 17 and defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alabama State Feb. 19.
Junior right-handed pitcher Colin Brockhouse was named Mid-American Conference West Division Pitcher of the Week after striking out eight batters without allowing a run in 4.1 innings against Maryland.
“I don’t know who wouldn’t like to play ranked teams and knock ‘em off,” Brockhouse said.
Though the Cardinals were unranked, Maloney said losing to Maryland would have been a disappointment.
"I don’t know how to think differently, and I don’t teach my team differently," Maloney said. "These kids have been raised in an environment where they expect to win … so when we lose, it hurts.”
In college baseball, teams generally put their best pitcher on the mound on Friday nights for the first game of the weekend series. Maloney said beating Maryland on a Friday night, as well as then-No. 6 Louisiana State last year, show just how good Ball State can be.
“That’s the biggest indicator, when you beat them on Friday it’s the best versus the best,” Maloney said.
Senior right-handed pitcher BJ Butler (0-0, 1.83 ERA) is scheduled to start against Coastal Carolina Friday. Last season, Butler was named First Team All-MAC as a relief pitcher, but he's starting off the 2017 season as the Cardinals' No. 1 starter.
At the plate, Ball State hit .257 last weekend. Senior centerfielder Matt Eppers was named MAC West Division Hitter of the Week after going 3-9 with the go-ahead two-run RBI double against Maryland. He also hit a game-tying RBI triple against Alabama State before scoring the go-ahead run on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore left fielder Roman Baisa.
Maloney has made a habit out of scheduling tough teams, and the win over Maryland marked the fifth-consecutive season Ball State beat a ranked team. He said he schedules tough teams so the Cardinals can test themselves.
“If you don’t play those teams, you’ll never know,” Maloney said.
The Cardinals and Chanticleers play at 4 p.m. Friday at 1 p.m. Saturday. Ball State plays a double-header against George Mason and then closes out the Caravelle Resort Tournament with an 11 a.m. matchup with West Virginia.