As the last finals are wrapping up at Ball State University on Friday and cars stream out of the Lafollette parking lot, the baseball team will begin its three-game series at Western Michigan University.
The Cardinals travel to Kalamazoo, Mich. to take on the last-place Broncos at 3 p.m. Friday. Ball State is tied for first place in the Mid-American Conference with the University of Toledo with just three weekends left before the conference tournament.
Ball State (22-22, 13-5) is off to its best start in MAC play since 2005, but a disappointing loss Sunday to Eastern Michigan University dropped it into a first-place tie. The Cardinals know they have to take advantage of the chance to open a lead in the division again.
"We've going to head into Western looking to get that first game," left fielder Kory Benbow said.
Western Michigan (11-33, 4-14) is toughest on Friday's when ace Casey Webber pitches. The left-hander has three of the Broncos' four-MAC victories. His 5.25 ERA isn't the most impressive, but it is three runs better than the team's 8.13 mark.
Because of finals, Ball State didn't play a midweek game for the first time since before Spring Break. To stay fresh, the Cardinals played a scrimmage on Wednesday. Coach Greg Beals also tried to work the practice schedule around his players' finals.
"We'll do a lot of individual-type practices," he said. "Guys will come out and get a workout in whenever it fits their schedules."
Western Michigan snapped a six-game losing streak with a 9-8 victory at Oakland University on Wednesday. The Broncos have lost their last five MAC games, including getting swept by the Rockets last weekend.
Toledo, meanwhile, will host third place Central Michigan University this weekend. The Chippewas are a game behind the leaders, but the Cardinals hold the tiebreaker by virtue of beating them in a head-to-head series.
All-American Kolbrin Vitek said Ball State is keeping an eye on the standings as the season draws to a close.
"We're always looking at them," Vitek said. "You've got to keep an eye on that at all times, but we've just got to keep winning games."
Ball State at Western Michigan at Hyames Field
Game No. 45
First pitch: 3 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Perci Garner (5-1, 4.11) vs. LHP Casey Webber (3-2, 5.25)
Weather: 58 degrees, rain, east 14 mph
Game No. 46
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Cal Bowling (4-3, 6.02) vs. RHP Troy Forton (1-3, 5.57)
Weather: 46 degrees, few showers, WNW 22 mph
Game No. 47
First pitch: 1 p.m.
Pitching matchup: RHP Kolbrin Vitek (2-4, 4.00) vs. TBA
Weather: 58 degrees, mostly sunny, northwest 14 mph