Senior catcher Caleb Stayton waits for the pitch at the game against Butler on March 28 at Ball Diamond in First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Stayton had one run batted in. Kaiti Sullivan // DN
PREVIEW: Ball State baseball vs. Ohio
When Ball State baseball takes on Ohio Friday, one losing streak is guaranteed to end.
Both the Cardinals and the Bobcats have lost their last five games, and the Cardinals (11-14, 0-3 MAC) are currently at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference standings.
Senior first baseman Caleb Stayton said they won’t be there for long.
Ball State statistics
Batting average: .238
On-base percentage: .331
Slugging percentage: .322
Streak — L5
Batting average: .251
On-base percentage: .328
Slugging percentage: .327
Streak — L5
“Sometimes you don’t get the hit at the right time, and that’s really all it comes down to,” Stayton said. “We’ve got guys in scoring position and we’re not getting the hit — we’re getting hits with nobody on. If we can get the timely hit and get the right mental plays, I think we’re right there and we can turn it around real fast.”
In Ball State’s 7-3 loss to Butler Wednesday, Stayton hit a single in his first at-bat, after missing the previous 13 games with a concussion, and later added an RBI on a sacrifice fly. Senior outfielder Matt Eppers said Stayton’s return should help the Cardinals — who hit .238 as a team — put up more runs.
“Caleb’s one of the best bats in the conference,” Eppers said. “I think it gives the other guys a lot of confidence and it puts more pressure on the [opposing] pitching staff because they know now we’ve got another bat they’ve got to watch out for.”
Stayton was named first-team All-MAC last season and went 5-11 with five runs, seven RBIs, a double and two home runs in last year’s series against Ohio. While Stayton was relegated to the dugout, he said he took mental reps.
“Every game I was watching, pretending like I was up there hitting,” Stayton said. “So when I got up there, obviously I had a little bit of jitters being back out there, but I was comfortable. I saw the pitch and I was swinging right out of the get-go.”
Ball State, who was picked to repeat its 2016 MAC West Division title in the conference’s preseason poll, was swept by Kent State, the favorite in the East Division, in its first conference series. Last Friday’s 6-5 loss ended when Golden Flashes redshirt senior right fielder Luke Burch made a diving play on an Eppers fly ball to right field with two outs and the tying run on second.
Eppers said the diving catch was an example of how close the Cardinals are to ending their streak.
“We know it’s a game of inches,” Eppers said. “Friday, if that ball drops, maybe we win and our confidence turns around. Maybe we take the series instead of them.”
Ohio (11-12, 0-0 MAC) has a 3.60 staff ERA, just seven points lower than Ball State’s 3.67 ERA. The Bobcats also hit .251, though their .328 on-base percentage is slightly lower than the Cardinals’ .331.
“I think the big thing is to have the confidence to not freak out,” Eppers said. “I feel like we’ve been doing that. It does get disappointing when we give up a big inning and we know we’re in a big hole. But a lot of it has to come trusting yourself and the process.”
First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex, followed by a pair of 1 p.m. games Saturday and Sunday.