Last fall, when Ball State coach Rich Maloney had his first look at the team he’d be coaching this season, he was less than impressed.
He watched as the team worked out and performed at the practice facility, not happy with what he saw. Mostly, players lacked fundamentals, errors were commonplace and patience at the plate was rare.
It was everything but the hallmarks of a Maloney-coached team.
“At our fall practice, we had a lot of work to do to be a competitive team, that was pretty clear,” Maloney said. “To our guy’s credit, they’ve gotten a lot better. They improved, that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
In 2011 and 2012, Ball State’s fielding percentage was at .950 and .955. This season it’s jumped up to .965.
Maloney has seen his team’s patience in the batter’s box improve as well, taking 123 walks with 17 games left this season. Last year, the team had 127 after the entire season.
Ball State has had a significant number of one run games this season, two of them coming last Friday and Sunday, both losses. Maloney said all those games, regardless of the outcome, are a sign the team is making progress and is ready to take the next step forward.
Those close games have moments where the game can turn on one play, instances Maloney thinks may be the most important moments in baseball.
“I thought there would be moments, I just didn’t know how many,” Maloney said. “There have been a lot of moments, a lot of them we’ve done well and a lot of them we’ve done not so well. But we’ve been right there, which is encouraging.”
For seniors like Chris Marangon, Wes Winkle and Blake Beemer, time is running out, and those moments will be harder to come by. Maloney said he’s been impressed with the time and effort they’ve put into the program and wants them to see success before they leave.
Seniors like Marangon have piled up stats during their Ball State careers, but don’t have postseason accolades to accompany them.
Maloney hopes that’ll change with the improvements this team has made since last fall.
“I really want success for these kids, they’ve worked so hard, especially the group of seniors,” Maloney said. “They’re right there and inches away, I just hope that down the stretch here we can get over the hump so they can see the postseason.”
Sitting with a conference record of 6-9 after dropping its series to Miami of Ohio 2-1, Ball State is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.
Coming into the season, Maloney said he wasn’t sure what kind of team he’d have, if it would be competitive and make the postseason, or struggle to keep games close and end up being blown out.
After seeing the progress his baseball team has made so far, his view of the team is different than when the season began.
Seeing the team perform and spending time with them outside Ball Diamond has changed his view from the first time he worked with them last fall.
“When you see yourself that close, the competitiveness in you, the fire that burns deep within yourself, and the drive, it raises the bar of your expectations,” Maloney said. “My expectations are definitely greater, and I really want it so bad for these kids right now.”