With the night settling into Sembower Field at Indiana in the 15th inning and his bullpen empty, coach Alex Marconi turned to T.J. Weir with two outs and two on in the 15th inning. Weir has made six starts as a starting pitcher this season, but started Wednesday's game at shortstop. He was still there three and a half hours later.
Weir walked the first hitter he faced, loading the bases. Justin Cureton followed with a two-out RBI single to right field, giving Indiana a 6-5 victory against Ball State in 15 innings.
Because Weir is typically Ball State's starting pitcher on Saturday, Wednesday was a throwing day for the right-hander. Marconi said Weir threw a light bullpen before the game with the idea that he might be needed to pitch in a close game after the Cardinals used six pitchers in a 10-inning victory Tuesday. And with the light waning Wednesday, Weir knew the end of the inning would also be the end of the game, regardless of whether the Hoosiers scored or not.
"It got pretty dark," Weir said.
Wednesday was the longest Ball State had played since 2004, when it lost to Notre Dame in 15 innings. It also was the fourth time in the last five games that the Cardinals (5-20) have played extra innings. While Ball State is 1-3 in that stretch, Marconi said he noticed a difference in his team's demeanor Wednesday.
"The good thing is that our younger players are getting experience playing in so many tight games," he said. "Today, it was evident we were more relaxed than in the past."
Even before extra innings, Marconi said the Cardinals were playing more relaxed. Catcher Kevin Franchetti entered the game 4-for-35 this season (.114), but went 2-for-6 with his first home run Wednesday.
Left-hander Nestor Bautista had struggled all season, but threw six quality innings in relief. He allowed just one earned run on four hits. Bautista matched his season-high for strikeouts with seven, in his best performance since he shut out Alabama-Birmingham for seven innings Feb. 25.
"He was the best pitcher today, on both sides," Marconi said. "That's the guy we know we have. We're working toward getting that guy most of the times he's out there."
Despite solid efforts from Bautista, Jacob Brewer and Chris Marangon on the mound, Ball State was again unable to do much offensively. After tying the game at five in the eighth, the Cardinals were held hitless in the final seven innings by three Hoosiers. The Cardinals still had their chances. They left 12 runners on base, including two in the 15th.
"We had some opportunities with runners in scoring position," Weir said. "We hit some decent balls right at people."
Troubles hitting with runners in scoring position have plagued the Cardinals all season. In the past, Marconi has said his hitters were pressing and just needed to relax in those situations.
Wednesday, he saw some players start to relax, a trait he hopes will continue this weekend when Ball State returns to Mid-American Conference play against Miami.
"Some of our guys are realizing you're more successful when you're relaxed," Marconi said. "We saw a relaxed Kevin Franchetti. We saw a relaxed Nestor Bautista. They just went out and played and had fun and let the game come to them a little bit."
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