After a taxing week jam-packed with final exams, Ball State will return to the diamond, rounding out its home portion of the 2012 regular season with a three-game weekend series against conference foe Western Michigan, starting Friday at 3 p.m.

With his players devoting every second of their free time to their academics over the past five days, coach Alex Marconi lessened the workload during practice this week. Marconi also decided to lighten up the mood in the smaller workload.

"I know they're physically tired and now they're mentally tired with the season plus exams this week," Marconi said. "We did a couple of drills out there and played a couple of games to have some fun."

But Marconi made sure his team got some mechanical work in during practice as well.

As the weekend draws closer, the focus for Marconi and the Cardinals (11-29, 6-12) is getting back in the mix of the Mid-American Conference West division.

Having lost two of their last three conference series', which includes being swept last weekend at Toledo, the Cardinals will square off with the Broncos, who have struggled of late. The Broncos are riding a five-game losing streak and have lost eight of their last 10. The last time the Broncos won back-to-back games was back in the beginning of April.

Nonetheless, Marconi said Western Michigan is a sound team and will prove to be a tough matchup.
 "They play good baseball," Marconi said. "I know they have a tendency to get some big hits and they've got guys that can do that."

Sophomore right-hander T.J. Weir (2-7, 5.61 ERA), who has been a tremendous boost for the Cardinals following the injury to senior Cal Bowling, will get the start Friday.

Excluding Bowling's 52 strikeouts, Weir has the most strikeouts of any Ball State pitcher this season, with 47.

Marconi credits Weir, who has kept his team in games since taking over as the No. 1 starter.

"I can say that T.J. has done a tremendous job of helping us lesson the loss of Cal," Marconi said. "T.J. has done a great job of keeping us in games on Fridays. That's the competitor in him."

Opposite of Weir for Western Michigan will be senior lefty Casey Webber (2-4, 4.06 ERA). Webber, who will be making his team-leading 12th start of the season, will look to get back on track after allowing nine runs on eight hits in just 5 1/3 innings of work last weekend at Kent State.

Marconi's game plan, which consists of utilizing all of his players' abilities to the fullest, has been successful over the past month for the Cardinals.

"It's trying to get everybody to contribute at their level," Marconi said. "To have our .280 hitters hit .280. To have our pitchers stay within themselves and do what they can. To have everybody do what they're capable [of] and not try and do too much.

"If we have good at-bats, if we have good pitching, play good defense, we're going to have a chance to win. We've done that consistently here over these last four or five weeks and we just need to continue to do that."