Coach Alex Marconi was left with mixed feelings after Ball State was swept in a three-game series at the University of Alabama at Birmingham this weekend. Before finishing the sweep with a 7-4 victory Sunday afternoon, the Blazers won each of the first two games in their last at bat.
UAB scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth without getting an out Friday to complete a comeback for a 4-3 victory. Then, on Saturday, the Cardinals lost 1-0 in 12 innings.
While Ball State (1-4) was swept, it wasn't difficult for Marconi to still envision a series victory.
"On one hand, we're realistically a hit or a couple pitches away from winning both games, which is frustrating because we end up with two losses," Marconi said. "On the other hand, we had some great pitching performances and played pretty good defense this weekend."
Starting pitching was the Cardinals strongest asset during the weekend. Senior Cal Bowling threw eight shutout innings Friday before giving up a pair of runs in the Blazers' ninth-inning comeback. Sophomore Nestor Bautista retired the first 16 batters he faced Saturday and allowed just two hits in seven innings. Sophomore T.J. Weir struck out eight batters in six innings and allowed three runs in his season debut Sunday.
While all three starters were impressive, Marconi was most encouraged by Bautista. In his first start of the season a week ago at USC Upstate, Bautista allowed seven runs in 1 1/3 innings. So to see him allow just two hits and one walk in seven innings at UAB was especially reassuring.
"I think he just went out and relaxed," Marconi said. "He pitched a little more relaxed and confident and stayed within himself."
It was the best and longest start of Bautista's career. Last year, as a freshman, Bautista's best start had been when he gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings against Indiana. He far surpassed that at UAB.
Yet, Bautista was still unable to pick up a victory. As well as he pitched, Ball State's offense could get nothing going at the plate. For 12 innings, the Cardinals were shutout by the Blazers. Finally, in the bottom of the 12 inning against reliever Miles Moeller, UAB was able to scratch out a run thanks to an error and an RBI-triple by Patrick Palmeiro.
Ball State scored just seven runs the whole weekend, including three runs in Sunday's ninth inning when UAB was already ahead 7-1. Marconi was disappointed in his hitters.
"Their pitchers did a nice job, you can't take that away," Marconi said. "But our hitters were awful."
The Cardinals had a .183 batting average as a team in the series, totaling 20 hits. Weir went 6-for-13 and was the only Cardinal with even one multi-hit game in Birmingham, Ala.
Weir said the Blazers' pitchers weren't overpowering, but they threw lots of strikes.
Marconi said even when the Cardinals got a pitch to hit, they couldn't put it in play.
"It was a combination of bad approaches and then not executing," he said. "That's kind of been us all year, missing our pitches when we're ahead in the count."