Second baseman Seth Freed throws the ball to first during the Cardinals’ game against Kent State on March 24 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Ball State allowed two runs in the third. Paige Grider // DN
Ball State baseball swept by Kent State in MAC-opening series
The first inning of Ball State baseball's 9-4 loss to Kent State Sunday was symbolic of the entire series.
With freshman John Baker (2-1, 2.61 ERA) on the mound for the Cardinals (11-13, 0-3 MAC), Golden Flashes redshirt senior Luke Burch led off with a single on a ground ball through the middle.
He went from first to third when redshirt junior centerfielder Mason Mamarella hit a hard ground ball that just snuck past diving Ball State first baseman Zach Milam. Mamarella advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Ball State batting average: .224 (22-98)
Kent State batting average: .371 (43-116)
Ball State ERA: 6.85
Kent State ERA: 4.28
Junior catcher Tim DalPorto then hit a line drive just past Cardinals junior second baseman Seth Freed, with the ball tailing about a foot away from outstretched glove. Burch and Mamarella both scored to give Kent State (15-6, 3-0 MAC) a 2-0 lead.
"Everything seemed to go in their direction," Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said. "I mean, every hit found the right hole, and to their credit, it was their weekend."
In the bottom of the first, it looked like the Cardinals' luck might have finally started to change when sophomore outfielder Roman Baisa reached first on an infield single. But in the next at-bat, senior third baseman Alex Maloney's hard ground ball down the third-base line was stopped by diving Golden Flashes third baseman John Matthews.
Alex Maloney was thrown out at first, followed by a fly-out to second base by senior shortstop Sean Kennedy to end the inning without any Ball State runs.
"If that guy dives in right field in game one and doesn't make that play, we probably win and the momentum's all different," Rich Maloney said. "It's a game of inches and all the inches went in their favor. There's really no arguing that, but they made plays. The play that that third baseman made [Sunday] was a great play and you've got to give them credit for it."
Ball State had been holding opponents to a .234 batting average, but Kent State hit .371 (43-116). The Cardinals, however, were held to a .224 batting average over the 3-game series.
"They're better than they have been hitting," Rich Maloney said. "It runs in streaks — right now Kent's having a real good run and we're going to have to fight through adversities."
Junior second baseman Seth Freed was a bright spot in Ball State's lineup. He went 5-9 with 2 runs, 2 RBIs, a triple and a home run. He entered the series hitting .227 but raised his average 40 points to .267.
"He's a dirtbag kind of player, and I think he got caught where things weren't going so well for him, like of like these other guys where they kind of lost their focus for a little bit," Rich Maloney said. "I think he got it back now, and some of it's confidence. You've got to have a couple of those things fall your way."
Rich Maloney said he thinks the offense could pick up when senior Caleb Stayton, who hasn't played since March 5 because of a concussion, returns. Stayton was first-team All-MAC last season. Junior right-handed pitcher Colin Brockhouse (2-1, 1.04 ERA) hasn't pitched since March 4, though he has been used as a pinch runner.
"I'm very hopeful that at some point in the year — when we get some guys back — I think we're very hopeful that we can get to be a really good team, I really believe that. I haven't lost that just over this series, and I told the boys that."
Ball State hosts Butler (16-7, 0-0 Big East) in its next game at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Ball Diamond.