As Opening Day approaches, Ball State University's biggest concern is improving its defense.
The Cardinals committed 110 errors last year, averaging more than two per game. The 110 errors were third most in school history and their .944 fielding percentage was the worst in the Mid-American Conference.
Catcher Zach Dygert knows if Ball State is going to be successful at No. 15 University of Arkansas this weekend, they will have to play better defensively.
"To stay in ballgames like this early [in the year], you really have to play very gooddefense," the senior captain said. "They're obviously going to hit the ball well. They get 27 outs, we can't give them any more than that."
Upgrading defensively was a priority in the offseason for the Cardinals. Coach Greg Beals moved Kolbrin Vitek from third base to second base when he's not pitching, and freshman Stephen Claypool will play third. Freshman outfielder Kirby Campbell is also expected to help in the field.
"I think that's a very important part of the program that has shown significant improvements through fall ball," Beals said. "It's something that now it's time, we need to see it play out on the field and help us win baseball games with our defense."
It is difficult for Northern teams like Ball State to play clean defense on opening weekend. The games in Arkansas will be the first time the Cardinals have played outside of the Field Sports Building.
Shortstop T.J. Baumet said it is difficult to make the adjustment to ground balls coming off infield dirt, rather than the floor.
"It's difficult starting off inside compared to this rubber and then you go to a normal field," the junior said.
Baumet struggled early last year, as he moved full time to shortstop. He committed 28 errors, the second most in school history.
This season, Baumet is more focused on making all the plays he has to.
"This year we're going to make the routine plays," Baumet said. "I thought last [year] we struggled because we didn't make the easy plays that we should have. It came along after we'd been playing outside."
Baumet will also get a new double-play partner this year, after second baseman Nate Fields graduated. He said working with Vitek has been smooth.
"We're almost on the same page," he said. "We know what each other seems to be thinking and we're always trying to make each other better."
Beals is hopeful that the Cardinals will be able to showcase their improved defense Friday.
"I think our defense is much improved," Beals said. "Now it's time to show that."