After facing defeat on Saturday, the Ball State baseball team found reprieve in one message. As parents and supporters greeted the team at the dugout, they repeatedly reminded the players that for the first time in a long time, next week matters.
Coach Rich Maloney said he was proud of the way his team competed on Saturday. Ball State fought back from a 3-0 deficit against Northern Illinois to push the game into extra innings.
Junior pitcher T.J. Weir relieved senior Chris Marangon in the first inning. Marangon had given up one run after facing five batters.
Weir stepped into the circle with the bases loaded and worked the Cardinals out of a jam. He stranded three NIU runners on base as he started a great day of pitching.
He would go on to pitch through the ninth inning as he allowed just seven hits and two runs. Weir was pulled only because Maloney felt he had exceeded his pitching limit on the day.
Weir held the Huskies scoreless through the game’s final five innings of regulation, but they took advantage of his absence in the 10th.
Northern Illinois scored three runs to jump ahead 6-3. Even after watching the Huskies have such a successful offensive frame, the Cardinals fought back in the bottom of the inning and scored one more run.
Senior Blake Beemer’s hit to center field nearly gave the Cardinals an additional run, but it fell short and NIU was able to make the catch, ending the game.
It was the final game of a three-game series and decided the winner of the Mid-American Conference West regular season title.
The Huskies took the title, and the team celebrated its win on the Ball State pitching mound. Despite suffering the heartbreaking loss in its regular season finale, the Cardinals held their heads high as they walked away from the diamond.
“The West division would have been an unbelievable story, but it would still be an unbelievable story if we win the tournament,” Maloney said.
The Cardinals were able to grind out wins in the second half of the season to push a record that was as low as 17-19 at one point, to the 28-23 mark with which they ended the season.
The late season really put them in position to compete for the MAC West title on Saturday. More importantly, it gave the Cardinals a spot in this year’s MAC Tournament – set to begin on Wednesday.
“The program has been down these last few years, and now we’ve brought it back to where we are in a tournament. That was our first goal,” Maloney said.
Ball State was 14-36 in 2012, 15-35 in 2011 and 29-29 in 2010 – the most recent year the team made it to the MAC Tournament.
This is Maloney’s first year with the Cardinals since he was hired at Michigan in 2002. He said his team has grown around the play of Ball State’s hard-working seniors.
Beemer, like the rest of Ball State’s seniors, played the final home game of his career on Saturday. He remained confident that the loss would do nothing to stunt that growth.
“We’ve played pretty good baseball these last three weekends, and we’ve got good momentum,” Beemer said. “We’ll carry that momentum into the tournament and anything can happen.”
The loss moved Ball State to No. 4 in the tournament field, while Northern Illinois moved up to the No. 3 spot. The Cardinals will square off with No. 5 Miami of Ohio in the opening game.
Senior outfielder Wes Winkle said the opponent is of less concern for his team than just playing to its full potential.
“We’re glad to be in the tournament, whether we were going to be the 2, or the 3, or the 4 seed… it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “Anybody can beat anybody when it comes tournament time, so we’ll be ready.”