The end of January was good to Ball State baseball, allowing for four outdoor practices at Ball Diamond.

With just under two weeks until its season opener, Ball State was fortunate for the opportunity to practice on its field in preparation for its first game in South Carolina.

“It’s phenomenal to be able to be outside at this time of the year,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “We’re thankful for our field and we’re just excited to be outside running around, because if you play your first game without having played outside yet, the mistakes aren’t very comical.”

The Cardinals will take what they’ve practiced to Charleston, South Carolina Feb. 16-18 at their season opener. Ball State will see UMass Lowell and Morehead State in the three-day Shipyard Classic. 

Before they step on the field, here’s what to expect this season. 

Travel-heavy schedule

Ball State will spend majority of its season on the road, per usual. The Cardinals will travel to South Carolina, Louisiana and North Carolina all in the first three weeks of the season, requiring them to travel by plane and bus. 

“We have two flights this year, one to Carolina and one to New Orleans,” redshirt senior outfielder Jeff Riedel said. “Other than that, we’re on a bus. It’s kind of nice to take a bus because you get time to spend with your team, get to know everybody a little bit better and you create that bond that leads to more of a brotherhood.”

Ball State will face five in-state rivals in the nonconference portion of its season in the form of Butler, Indiana, Indiana State, Purdue and Valparaiso. The team will also be challenged against Iowa, Ohio State and Maryland out of the Big 10 and Virginia Tech out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Three out of the five Big 10 opponents will play at Ball Diamond.

“[Traveling] is just what we do,” Maloney said. “It’s kind of like our thing. You develop that you’re either going to be a team or you’re going to really not like each other. Fortunately for us and our program, we’ve always been a team and it’s an opportunity for us to go to a lot of different places, for these kids to have a lot of different experiences and play against a lot of great teams.”

With a schedule that requires hundreds of miles of travel to and from, Maloney makes it a priority for his team to stay organized as student athletes. Maloney prides his team in its ability to stay balanced, as he had eight players named to the Baseball Academic All-MAC team last season. 

“A lot of times during the season, despite our rigorous schedule, the kids actually perform very well, probably because they have to be so disciplined and focused to get their work done,” Maloney said. 

Ball State will play its first game on its home field March 16 when it hosts Dayton, followed by the start of Mid-American Conference play March 23 when it travels to Kent State. 

New faces

The Cardinals lost eight players after the 2017 season, but have welcomed seven newcomers to the squad — Cody Freed, Drey Jameson, Chayce McDermott, Noah Navarro, Kyle Nicolas, Ben Wiegand and Rhett Wintner.

“No matter what, we lost a lot of key players from last year’s team, but we’ve got a bunch of great young players and we’ve got some veteran players that are eager to prove themselves,” Maloney said. 

Five of the seven recruits are pitchers, along with a pair of infielders. 

“I’m really excited about the 2017-18 class,” Maloney said in a press release. “I feel like we struck a good balance between pitching talent, athleticism and position needs. My staff, led by recruiting coordinator Scott French, deserves a lot of credit for putting this class together.”

With the newest addition to the pitching staff, Maloney has dedicated much of the off season to working with his pitchers so they are ready and healthy enough to throw when the season starts. 

“We’re getting our pitchers’ arms ready and getting all our fundamentals ready and getting our routines down so that they get a lot of reps for the action that’s going to happen when they get in the game,” Maloney said. “Baseball is a game of repetition and we have to get a lot of reps.”

Working with the pitchers benefits the whole team, as it is able to see live pitching before competing in its first game against another team. The team has had a handful of inner team scrimmages to prepare the batters and fielders as well. 

“We’re mostly working on pitchers, seeing live pitching and throwing live to the batters,” Riedel said. “We’ll work on kind of the small ball aspect of it and make sure all of our T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted as they say. We just have to make sure everything is looking good and that we are all ready to go.”

End result

It’s simple, as Maloney puts it. At the end of the season, Ball State wants to sit atop the MAC. 

Last season, the team recorded a 30-28 overall record to put it just above the .500 mark. However, the Cardinals put up a 14-10 MAC record, something they hope to only improve on. 

“We always want to be at the top of the MAC,” Maloney said. “I think we got a real shot, I think we’ve got a competitive group and it’s all about getting some momentum and hopefully staying healthy and making the routine play routinely, throwing some strikes and getting a timely hit. If we do that, we’ll be pretty good.”

Last season was the fifth straight year Ball State reached the 30-win plateau, but it never moved past that number, as it allowed Kent State to knock it out of the MAC Tournament with a 15-5 victory that ended the Cardinals' season.

The Cardinals have put last season’s ending behind them and are ready to succeed in the MAC tournament and take their season even further this time around. 

“I’m looking forward to competing with the team and seeing how far we can go,” Riedel said. “We have a good team here and I think we can compete for a MAC Championship and hopefully go to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the goal.”

Ball State baseball will take the field for the first time this season at 12 p.m. Feb. 16 in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Contact Kara Biernat with comments at karabiernat@gmail.com or on Twitter at @karabiernat.