BASEBALL: Late heroics not enough as Ball State falls to UAB in extra innings

Cardinals swept by host Blazers in Saturday doubleheader

The bullpen heroics of Friday faded into the setting sun Saturday, as Ball State University blew not one, but two save opportunities in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Blazers snatched a 10-9 extra-innings win from the Cardinals' clutch, coming back from deficits of 5-2 and 9-7 in the late innings. After a 6-0 win earlier in the day, the victory in the nightcap gave UAB (2-2) a sweep of the doubleheader.

Ball State (2-4) got an early lead and the best starting pitching performance of the year from Scott Brothers, Jr. Typically used as a reliever, Brothers exited the game after six strong innings with a 5-2 lead.

The senior was forced to watch from the dugout as his chance at a victory went up in flames. Reliever Derek Garbner faced six batters in the seventh inning, but managed to retire only two of them. He left with the bases loaded and handed the ball to Heath Riley.

The right-hander gave up a grand slam to shortstop Jonathan Merritt, handing UAB the lead. Merritt went 2-for-5 and finished the game with six RBI.

Ball State's bats did their best to get its pitchers off the hook. The Cardinals added three runs in the eighth, quickly retaking the lead. First baseman Ian Nielsen and left fielder Kirby Campbell had doubles, and Campbell and third baseman Stephen Claypool each drove in runs.

The lead was extended to 9-7 in the top of the ninth inning when Nielsen drove in second baseman Kolbrin Vitek with a single. They could have added even more insurance, but shortstop T.J. Baumet flew out to center with the bases loaded to end the inning.

Vitek and Claypool each drove in two runs. Five Cardinals had two hits, including center fielder Cody Elliott and Vitek, who each had home runs.

With closer Aaron Hammons sidelined with an injury, coach Greg Beals called on sophomore Seth Hobbs, who earned his first career win Friday night.

Hobbs gave up a leadoff walk to ninth Mikael Saway, the ninth hitter, and Jamal Austin followed with a double. Hobbs then induced a groundball that scored a run and a sacrifice fly to tie the game at nine.

In extra innings, both offenses struggled to get started. No Cardinal reached base off right-hander Ben Bullard (1-0), who pitched the final 3 1/3 innings.

The Blazers had similar troubles against left-hander Jon Cisna (0-1), who pitched all of the extra innings for the Cardinals. The freshman lost the game without surrendering a hit.

In the 12th inning, third baseman John Frost reached on an error by Baumet. Cisna followed up the error with a walk and a hit batsman. Left fielder Keith DePew won the game with a groundball that Ball State couldn't turn into their third double play of the night.

After failing to score a run in the first game Saturday, Ball State cannot win the series. Right-hander Beau Pender (1-0) shut the Cardinals down for seven innings, striking out nine. Pender and reliever Nick Graffeo allowed only three hits, and held Vitek, a preseason All-American, hitless for the first time all season.

The Blazers scored two runs off right-hander Cal Bowling (0-1) in 4 2/3 innings. They added four more off Morgan Coombs, though three were unearned.

Ball State will attempt to escape Birmingham, Ala. with a split Sunday. Vitek (0-1) will start for the Cardinals.