BASEBALL: Ball State begins MAC Tournament with familiar foe

Cardinals confident facing team they set runs record against

Understandably devastated after losing the Mid-American Conference regular season championship Saturday, Ball State University picked itself up and got on the bus to go home.

Since its 8-7 loss to the University of Toledo that saw its goals get thrown out the window when it was unable to hold a four-run lead in the eighth inning, Ball State has worked to get back in good spirits.

It started on the bus ride home from Toledo and continued at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio, on the eve of the MAC Tournament as Ball State's coaches took batting practice.

"It was a hard loss to take," All-American Kolbrin Vitek said Saturday. "We're just trying to lighten the mood now."

The Cardinals (28-27, 19-8) understand their season isn't lost just because they failed to win the MAC regular season title and the No. 1 seed that accompanies it. Instead, Ball State will open the MAC Tournament Wednesday at 9 a.m. against Bowling Green State University.

The winner of the double-elimination tournament will win the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.

"We're disappointed we didn't win the regular season," coach Greg Beals said. "But we got a great bit of experience this weekend."

Ball State won its three-game series at Bowling Green in April, taking the first two games. The Cardinals scored a program-record 32 runs in the second game of the series to easily defeat the preseason MAC East favorites.

After scoring 44 runs in the first two games of the series, Ball State managed just three in their loss in the series finale. Vitek is confident about the Cardinals' chances.

"When we played them we took care of them pretty easily," he said.

However, since giving up 32 runs to Ball State, Bowing Green has turned its season around. The Falcons were 8-17 after the big loss. Since that Saturday in April, Bowling Green is 20-4 and on a four-game winning streak.

The only teams to defeat Bowling Green in the last six weeks of the season were the University of Michigan, Kent State University and Miami University. The Golden Flashes knocked off the Falcons twice to win the MAC East title.

"We whooped them pretty good," Beals said. "But give them credit. They bounced back and played awfully good."

Bowling Green will throw its ace and last year's MAC Pitcher of the Year Brennan Smith on Wednesday. Ball State will counter with Perci Garner, who beat Smith when the two faced April 9.

The Cardinals' offense will be bolstered by the return of shortstop T.J. Baumet, who left Saturday's game in the 7th inning with a separated shoulder.

Ball State's next opponent will come from the final game in Chillicothe on Wednesday, between top-seeded Central Michigan University and Ohio University. A win would send the Cardinals into the winner's bracket against the winner of that game, while a loss would leave them one loss away from elimination.

Vitek, the newly-minted MAC Player of the Year, is hopeful Ball State will be able to stay in the winner's side, something it's been unable to do since winning the conference tournament in 2006.

"Winning the first game is the biggest thing," he said. "Usually if you get the first one out of the way, you cruise through a couple wins."

No. 5 Bowling Green vs. No. 4 Ball State
First round of MAC Tournament
VA Memorial Stadium, Chillicothe, Ohio
First pitch:
9 a.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Brennan Smith (5-4, 8.53) vs. RHP Perci Garner (5-2, 4.43)
Weather: 71 degrees, partly cloudy, north 4 mph


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