After back-to-back extra-inning losses Friday and Saturday to Kent State, the class of the Mid-American Conference, Ball State appeared to be emotionally drained in Sunday's series finale.
The Cardinals struggled from the start and the game quickly spiraled out of control as the Golden Flashes scored 10 runs in the first three innings. There would be no comeback Sunday and Ball State lost 18-2, extending its losing streak to five games. The Cardinals (4-19, 1-5 MAC) were swept for the third time in seven weekends this season.
"We just didn't have the intensity from pitch one, as a team," first baseman Cody Campbell said. "It felt like we came out not as hyped as we should have."
Coach Alex Marconi said the loss ultimately came down to the failure of Ball State's pitching staff to execute.
The Cardinals came into the day having used their best pitchers in an effort to get a win Friday or Saturday and they did their jobs, helping to send both games into extra innings. But Ball State failed to win either game despite having the winning run on third base with one out in each game.
While Marconi's moves almost resulted in a pair of victories, they also left the Cardinals without many alternatives if left-hander Miles Moeller struggled in the first start of his career.
And Moeller did struggle. He gave up four runs on three hits and three walks in just 1 1/3 innings before Marconi went to the bullpen. It was the start of a parade of relievers - six in all - who combined to allow 14 runs on 15 hits in 7 2/3 innings.
"I don't know how many times we were behind in the count today, but way too many," Marconi said. "And they're a good hitting team, so when you get behind and it's 2-0, 2-1 and you've already walked a guy, it's going to be a long day with the wind blowing out."
Kent State shortstop Jimmy Rider had an especially productive day, going 3-for-4 with three runs, five RBIs and his third home run in as many days. Rider went 5-for-13 with eight RBI to lead the Golden Flashes' offense in the series.
The early hole Ball State dug was made even deeper by Kent State right-hander Tyler Skulina. He threw his fastball consistently in the low-90s Sunday, occasionally lighting up the radar gun at 94 mph. With that fastball combined with his hard slider, Marconi said Skulina had the best stuff of any pitcher the Cardinals have faced this season.
"It was pretty tough to hit him," Campbell said. "He was one of the best pitchers we've probably seen all year."
Skulina was tough enough to end center fielder Wes Winkle's 12-game hitting streak, which was the longest by a Cardinal in the last two years. Winkle went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, all against Skulina. The last time Winkle was hitless in a game was March 3 in Ball State's 15-5 loss at Missouri.
While Winkle struggled, Campbell had the most success of any Ball State hitter against Skulina, who was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2010 out of high school. Campbell went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run against the right-hander.
Skulina allowed two runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked just one batter. Marconi said he was pleased with his hitters' ability to take advantage of some of the mistakes Skulina made early in the game.
"He left some pitches down the middle of the plate, he left some two-strike pitches over the middle of the plate," Marconi said. "I was very pleased, early on, with what we were able to do. And then it's tough because when you go back out and you give up more runs and more runs and more runs, then the offense, they just get deflated."