BASEBALL: Ball State ready for MAC West leaders

Cardinals travel to division-leading Central Michigan for weekend series

The first half of the Mid-American Conference season was smooth sailing for Ball State University as it beat up on the East Division.

Ball State (17-20, 9-3) will face perhaps its sternest test of conference play when it kicks off action against the West Division at Central Michigan University (21-13, 10-2) on Friday. The Cardinals are a game behind the first-place Chippewas in the West.

Even though the MAC Tournament is still more than a month away, Ball State understands the importance of this weekend's trip to Mount Pleasant, Mich.

"We've got to up to Central and win that series against them, and that'll put us ahead of them as far as tiebreakers go," coach Greg Beals said. "Winning series is going to be awfully good in the West, because it's playing well and we might beat each other up a little bit."

Both teams hope to start the weekend with a win Friday night. Ball State will send Perci Garner (5-0), the only pitcher in the MAC to win all four of his conference starts, to the hill. Garner threw 2/3 of an inning in relief last year against the Chippewas, giving them some idea of what they're up against.

"It wasn't a long stint, but it was enough for us to get a feel for him," Central Michigan coach Steve Jaksa said. "We know he's got a great arm, a live arm. Hopefully we can do something against him."

The Chippewas will counter with right-hander Jesse Hernandez (5-1). The senior didn't pitch in last year's series at Ball State but has thrown well during MAC play this year. Hernandez is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in his four conference starts.

Central Michigan is a perfect 9-0 at home this season, but Jaksa knows home field advantage can only take a team so far.

"We feel we have a good tradition in our stadium and we want to uphold that," he said. "But we have to be ready to play. Just because you're playing at home, it doesn't give you an edge."

The winner of this weekend's series will hold what could be an important tie-breaker come MAC Tournament time. But more importantly, the winner will come away in first place with momentum as the season nears crunch time.

"I feel like we're right where we need to be to have a good run at winning the regular season outright and having a good seed going into the tournament," catcher Zach Dygert said.

Ball State at Central Michigan at Theunissen Stadium

Game No. 38
First pitch: 3:05 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Perci Garner (5-0, 3.51) vs. RHP Jesse Hernandez (5-1, 4.26)
Weather: 62 degrees, sunny, wind southeast at 8 mph

Game No. 39
First pitch: 2:05 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Cal Bowling (2-3, 6.31) vs. LHP Rick Dodridge (3-2, 4.82)
Weather: 60 degrees, showers, wind ESE at 11 mph

Game No. 40
First pitch: 1:05 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (1-3, 4.01) vs. RHP Jake Sabol (4-3, 5.09)
Weather: 52 degrees, rain, wind northeast at 17 mph