Ball State led Coastal Carolina 3-0 in the sixth inning. Facing one of college baseball’s powerhouses, the Cardinals had them on the ropes with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Senior Wes Winkle grounded into a double play, and then freshman Sam Tidaback followed up with another out to end what could have been a huge inning.
Coastal Carolina then answered in the seventh and eighth innings with five runs, and took the game 5-3 on March 8.
Another hit in the sixth could have broken the game wide open and achieved a big win for a Ball State program that’s in need of revival.
“We had a shot to beat them on their home field, we were playing better than they are,” Ball State coach Rich Maloney said. “We just couldn’t finish it up ... We didn’t score any runs after that.”
Ball State fell the next day to Ohio State, also 5-3, and they left 10 runners on base. Both games, they led late, but couldn’t tack on extra runs and wasted solid starts by seniors Chris Marangon and Jon Cisna.
Growing pains are to be expected from a team that’s won just 29 out of 100 games over the last two seasons.
Maloney hopes that as the season progresses, so does the late game execution from his team.
“I think we’ll get better as the season goes,” Maloney said. “The idea is having a few guys hot every weekend, then not having too many that have bad weekends.”
Ball State has played 14 games so far, and many of them have been decided by just a few runs.
Sometimes it’s a timely hit that’s necessary, and sometimes it’s an important pitch. For sophomore pitcher Scott Baker, he approaches that one throw with a clear mind.
Early in a game against Morehead State, Baker faced a bases loaded, nobody out situation. He struck out the next two batters and forced the final batter to fly out, ending the inning undamaged.
“I definitely get more focused,” Baker said. “I just need to execute those pitches, especially when there’s a guy in scoring position.”
It’s a trait that Maloney wants to see appear more as the season continues, and hopes that these experiences will help provide victories as the season continues.
Maloney said that winning breeds confidence and it’s important for his players to get into that state of mind as the team enters conference play next week.
“That’s part of building and it takes time,” Maloney said. “Guys have to experience winning more, guys have to go through the grind more ... Once we can do that, the result will be more positive.”
Although they’ve been on the losing end of a few close games this season, they’ve gotten that game-breaking hit a few times as well.
In its first game in a series against Morehead State, redshirt junior Billy Wellman slammed the ball down the left field line to clear the bases and give Ball State a 4-1 lead.
Wellman leads the team with 12 RBI and has made a number of big plays through the first month of the season.
To Maloney, making that one critical play at the end of a game consistantly will come with time, and the key is to stay patient as the season continues.
“Over time, my hope is that we’ll improve in that area,” Maloney said. “If we want to take this program to the next level as far as winning goes, we’re going to have to execute a little bit better in some of those situations.”