Ball State baseball led Bowling Green 1-0 in the top of the fourth last Tuesday at Ball Diamond. The visitors hit a deep fly ball out to center field, where Ball State outfielder Wes Winkle settled under it, ready to send his team back into the dugout.
He misjudged the ball; it came down and hit Winkle in the head. The ball rolled to the wall and both runners scored, giving Bowling Green the lead.
The play was a microcosm of the season for Ball State so far.
Little mistakes leading to bigger problems is an issue Ball State coach Rich Maloney has seen all season.
“Whenever a little thing seems to happen with us, that little thing ends up being a bigger thing,” Maloney said. “That’s one of the things in building the program that we have to get out of our system.”
Ball State encountered another one of those on Sunday in its 6-3 loss to Central Michigan.
Leading 3-2 in the top of the ninth, Ball State was looking to put away the final three batters and win its second straight Mid-American Conference series.
With a shot to get the save, lefty Miles Moeller hit the first batter of the inning.
The hit batter was the little mistake that snowballed into a big inning for Central Michigan.
Three singles, a double and a walk later, the Chippewas had six runs and Maloney was left scratching his head, wondering what went wrong.
“The guys have to understand when something happens that they don’t want, they have to play through it,” Maloney said. “Now there have been times when we did play through it, just not enough this season.”
Ball State played through it just an inning earlier. Central Michigan put its fastest player on base and moved him to third through a steal and sacrifice fly, ready to tie the game.
With a 3-2 count and two outs, Moeller fired a pitch up and in. The batter swung and missed, ending the inning and igniting the Ball State faithful.
Unfortunately for Ball State, it couldn’t score in the bottom of the eighth, meaning there was no margin for error in the top of the ninth.
“Our margins are so small that we have to grind it out, we’re not a team of stars,” Maloney said. “And when they’re that small, the little things show up more.”
Good teams find a way to win games they deserve to lose. For Ball State, it has been a season where it has been losing games it deserves to win, a signature of a rebuilding team.
To the Cardinals’ credit, the team has already won more games this year than all of last season. Despite all the inopportune errors, missed chances to get a timely hit, or a dropped fly ball in center that could have ended the inning, Maloney said this team has shown a lot of progress.
The next step, Maloney said, is becoming mentally sound enough to make those game-altering plays that are the difference between a win and a loss.
“We have to get a little bit better in some of those little facets and not let a little bump in the road turn into a big bump,” Maloney said. “Sometimes we do that and we’re pretty good. Sometimes we don’t, that’s why we’re a team that’s hovering around .500 right now.”
Recent close losses:
April 14: BSU leads 3-2 in the top of the ninth, BSU loses 6-3.
April 9: Game tied at 4 in the seventh, BSU loses 7-5.
April 5: BSU leads 11-9 in the bottom of the eighth, loses 12-11.
April 3: BSU leads 8-1 in the fourth, loses 10-9.
March 29: BSU leads 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh, loses 6-2.