Saturday's doubleheader versus preseason Mid-American Conference West division favorite Central Michigan (19-19, 8-5 MAC) served as a golden opportunity for Ball State to make a statement.
But a young and inexperienced Ball State team (11-25, 7-6 MAC) squandered the opportunity, dropping both games to the Chippewas, who leapfrogged the Cardinals in the division standings.
Coach Alex Marconi said that both games "got away" from his team.
"[We've] got to make plays to win, bottom line," Marconi said.
Ball State was dominated in game one, which ended in an ugly 12-3 blowout.
Junior Cal Bowling had his worst outing in conference play this season, lasting just 5 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs, five of which were earned off of eight hits.
"Cal wasn't as sharp as he's been in the past," Marconi said. "But he was still good enough to win."
The Chippewas tagged Bowling for five runs in the top of the third inning to take a 6-1 lead, before adding three more in the sixth to knock the right-hander out of the game.
Central Michigan's Trent Howard turned in another notable outing for the Chippewas.
After tossing seven innings last weekend against Kent State, Howard mirrored his last start by going seven innings against Ball State, allowing just two earned runs off of seven hits while striking out eight.
"Trent's been throwing the ball really well," coach Steve Jaksa said. "I thought he did a nice job."
Game two featured a late inning rally from Ball State and a chance to win the game, but the Cardinals coughed up a ninth inning lead.
Senior shortstop T.J. Baumet put Ball State on the board in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run home run, his fourth of the season.
"I just tried to put a good swing on it," Baumet said. "I got it up in the jet stream and the wind helped me out."
The Chippewas knotted the game at two in the second, and junior right-hander Zach Cooper took over from there.
Cooper retired the next 15 Ball State hitters in order. At one point he struck out eight consecutive Cardinals.
"Cooper's last outing against Kent [State] wasn't very successful and we're very happy that he was able to bounce back," Jaksa said. "We were very pleased with his intensity and the way he put himself together."
Down by two runs in the seventh, the Cardinals rallied to score three times to take a 6-5 lead.
Following a fielding error, Central Michigan had runners on second and third with one out.
Ball State sophomore reliever Michael Sandman proceeded to intentionally walk first baseman Brendan Emmett, but threw wildly, enabling a run to score.
The wild pitch blew the lead and the game for Ball State.
While needing only two outs to split the doubleheader, Marconi wasn't sure whether his had the game won.
"You never know if you have [the game] in the bag," he said. "The other team always has a chance to come back."
The series finale is set for 1 p.m. this afternoon.
Ball State will look to salvage the final game of the series while Central Michigan will go for the series sweep.