Ball State baseball hosted Dayton this afternoon for its home opener in the first game of a four-game series. 

In a quick-paced game, Ball State (8-9) ultimately fell to Dayton (4-8) after it gave up the lead in the third inning and failed to recover. Even Behind sophomore John Baker's 14-strikeout performance on the rubber, the Cardinals lost a "free-be" battle according to head coach Rich Maloney. 

"It was close this time, 3-4, but we still lost the free-be battle and we lost the game close," he said. "The deal is, when you win the free-be war, you win 70 percent of the time and when you lose the free-be war, you lose 70 percent of the time. So right now, we've lost the war quite a bit and we're 8-9 and that's probably where the truth lies right now. We have to get back on top."

In a scoreless game through two innings, Dayton rallied in the third inning for a pair of runs. Dayton junior Bailey Montoya led off the inning with a single up the middle. Baker then walked junior Pat Meehan to put Flyers on first and second base.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Brandon Smith then came in clutch with a two-out double to put Dayton on the board, 2-0, and Ball State was unable to answer as it went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the third. 

On the mound, Smith walked away with the win after 5.1 innings of work. Smith recorded four strikeouts and no walks for just two earned runs. 

"It's amazing that he didn't have one walk," Maloney said. "To Dayton's credit, they threw strikes and we did hit some loud balls. I'd say we probably hit more than they did. The last two games, I think we've had the hits but they just didn't fall for us. But in a close game, it comes down to just a few little things and to their credit, their big hitter for the big hit when they needed it... that two-run double."

The Flyers stayed hot as sophomore Takahiro Yamada led off the top of the fourth inning with a homerun to extend their lead 3-0. 

In an attempt to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth, senior Colin Brockhouse grabbed the first hit of the game for the Cardinals and advanced to second when junior Griffin Hulecki was hit by a pitch. A sacrifice fly by Seth Freed put runners at the corners. However, Ball State was unable to execute, allowing Dayton to get out of the inning unharmed.

The Flyers tacked on another run in the sixth inning off back-to-back singles and a wild pitch by Baker. The Cardinals were able to get two runs on the board in the bottom half of the inning when Hulecki and senior Seth Freed each had an RBI single to make it 4-2. 

However, it was all about the man on the rubber in today's contest. In 8.0 innings of work, he recorded 14 strikeouts and just one walk. Baker is now 2-2 on the season and holds a 4.88 ERA.

"Most of the game I just stuck with my fastball away and they couldn't really touch it for the most part, so I just kind of stuck with that," Baker said. "I kind of always just keep the main focus of staying away on pitches and throwing with conviction."

Although it's tough to lose the past two games like the Cardinals did, Maloney saw positives, especially with the pitching.

"I thought Johnny competed really well and I think he was just one pitch away and it was a double down the line," Maloney said. "Johnny battled though in that game and I thought Freed did outstanding in that inning he pitched."

With the loss, Ball State drops to under .500 on the season after almost closing out the nonconference portion of its season. 

Ball State heads to Dayton tomorrow for a doubleheader to continue its four-game series. The games are slated for 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.

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