For 6 1/2 innings, the pitchers' duel that was anticipated between Ball State's Cal Bowling and Louisville's Justin Amlung did not disappoint. Through seven innings, Amlung allowed only an unearned run and struck out nine. Bowling had matched him entering the bottom of the seventh, allowing just one run on four hits.
But in the bottom of the seventh, Louisville scored four times, chasing Bowling from the game. Louisville (12-6) scored four more times in the eighth and easily defeated Ball State 9-4 Friday night. The loss was Ball State's third in a row, marking the third time already this spring that the Cardinals (3-10) have had a losing streak of at least three games.
Friday's defeat had the same characteristics of Ball State's last two losses: lack of timely hitting and poor bullpen performance.
Ball State went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position Friday. Both hits came in the ninth inning when the game was already out of reach. During the losing streak, Ball State is 4-for-23 with runners in scoring position.
The Cardinals' biggest failure in clutch hitting came in the seventh inning when the score was still tied at one. Cody Campbell doubled to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to third by Blake Beemer. But Amlung struck out both Brandon Estep and Dominic Catanzarite to wriggle out of the jam with the score still tied.
Louisville wasted no time making sure Ball State paid for failing to take the lead in the top of the inning. Despite twice having runners thrown out at the plate in the inning, Louisville took advantage of two walks to load the bases with two outs for Nick Ratajczak, the Cardinals' leading hitter. Ratajczak came through in the clutch, hitting a bases-clearing double to give Louisville the lead for good and end Bowling's night.
Bowling allowed five runs in 6 2/3 innings for his first loss of the season. But the Ball State bullpen fared little better. Miles Moeller relieved Bowling and gave up a double, allowing Ratajczak to score. He would give up three runs of his own in the eighth before giving way to Tyler Jordan, who faced just three batters, but also gave up a run.
Ball State struggled with Amlung from the start of the game, when he retired the first 10 batters he faced. The right-hander struck out nine batters in 7 2/3 innings, allowing just five hits.
The Cardinals' offense did get some good news Friday, when Tim Issler pinch hit in the eighth inning. Issler, Ball State's leading hitter last season, had missed seven consecutive games with an eye infection. He went 0-for-2 Friday.
Ball State and Louisville will play the second game of their-three game series Saturday at 1 p.m. Right-hander T.J. Weir will start for Ball State.