After struggling to score runs all weekend at Akron, Ball State coach Alex Marconi was willing to take a gamble in the 12th inning on Sunday. After T.J. Weir tripled with one out in the inning, Marconi flashed the sign for a suicide squeeze.
The Cardinals had already executed one squeeze bunt successfully Sunday, but Marconi wasn't afraid to call for another one.
"I feel pretty confident in one through nine in our lineup to get a bunt down in that situation," Marconi said.
His confidence was rewarded as Cody Campbell dropped the bunt down and Weir scrambled home for what proved to be the winning run. Left-hander Miles Moeller (1-1) worked around a potentially costly error in the bottom of the inning and Ball State hung on to beat Akron 2-1. The victory snapped the Cardinals' seven-game losing streak and was their first Mid-American Conference win of the season.
After losing the first two games of the series 4-0 Friday and 6-3 Saturday, Ball State (4-14, 1-2) needed a victory to avoid being swept on back-to-back weekends. To win in extra innings only made it more special, Weir said.
"That was huge today," he said. "The way we did it - fighting the whole game - was really big."
The Cardinals took the lead in the third inning when Sean Godfrey led off the inning with a single. He moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a sacrifice bunt. Marconi then called for the suicide squeeze with Blake Beemer at the plate. Godfrey scored easily, crossing the plate standing up, and Beemer was credited with a single.
Neither team would score again until the ninth inning. Right-hander Chris Marangon bounced back from his disastrous start a week ago at Louisville and allowed just one hit in 4 2/3 shutout innings. Marangon did walk four batters, but was able to keep any of them from scoring.
The Cardinals also got excellent relief appearances from left-handers Jon Cisna, Devin Wilburn and Moeller. The three combined for 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits.
The lone run came in the ninth inning against Wilburn. With one out and pinch runner Jared Turocy on second base, Darius Washington hit a groundball to Weir, playing shortstop. Instead of throwing to first for the sure out, Weir tried to get Turocy at third, but his throw was late.
Marconi said Weir should have thrown the ball to first, giving Akron a runner on third, but with two out.
"He was a little overzealous," Marconi said.
With only one out, Akron coach Rick Rembielak called for a squeeze bunt with his son, Matt, at the plate. The bunt rolled up the first base line, barely staying fair and allowing Turocy to score.
Wilburn ended the threat with a pair of strikeouts, enabling Ball State to get another shot in extra innings.
That run was the only run allowed by the Ball State bullpen in 11 1/3 innings during the weekend.
"It's something I know they're capable of doing," Marconi said. "To see it was a huge step forward for this baseball team."
As well as the bullpen pitched, however, Ball State struggled offensively. They scored just five runs on 20 hits all weekend. Zips right-hander Andrew Brown threw a four-hit shutout Friday, marking the second time the Cardinals were shutout this season.
Akron's starting pitchers combined to allow just one run in 23 innings. They also registered more strikeouts (16) than hits allowed (15).
"I felt their guys did a good job," Marconi said. "I think it was more a lack of execution on our part. I think for whatever reason our guys were pressing and didn't take advantage of their opportunities."
Ball State plays one final road game Tuesday before its home opener Wednesday against Indiana State. Ball State then hosts Kent State, the reigning MAC champion, for a three-game series beginning Friday.
All of that makes Sunday's victory at Akron even more important for the Cardinals.
"It was very important to the confidence of our baseball team," Marconi said. "It was big for us to get a road win in our first conference series."
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