A win over the No. 5 Miami RedHawks did more than just keep Ball State in the Mid-American Conference Championship winner’s bracket. It allowed them to move past a demoralizing loss suffered to the Northern Illinois Huskies last Saturday.
And it allowed the Cardinals to build confidence in the fact that a regular season series defeat does not necessarily correlate to the postseason.
“In that bracket that we’re situated in, every [opposing] team won the series this year,” coach Rich Maloney said.
The other teams in the bracket are No. 1 Kent State and No. 8 Central Michigan. Kent State was able to score 20 runs over the span of a three-game series against Ball State. The Golden Flashes won the series 2-1.
Central Michigan routed the Cardinals in the first game of its series, before going on to win two-of-three, despite playing at the Ball State Baseball Complex.
Miami won the regular season series against Ball State 2-1 as well. In a matchup between the team’s premier pitchers – Brooks Fiala for Miami and Scott Baker for Ball State – the RedHawks defeated the Cardinals 1-0.
After three innings against the Miami RedHawks on Wednesday, it looked as though Ball State might fall back into its regular season habits.
And postseason habits too, for that matter. The Ball State baseball program had not won its opening game in the MAC Tournament since 2006.
Maloney said he expected stiff competition from Miami, and he certainly got it, as Miami had a 4-3 lead after three innings.
“We knew this had potential to be a really tough game,” he said.
The offense was shaky early, but not dead. More pressing were Baker’s struggles.
Baker, named MAC Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday, had allowed an ERA of just 1.63 during the regular season. The RedHawks’ first four runs of the game were all earned.
It was the Cardinals’ offense that would eventually allow Baker to get his pitching under control. In the fourth inning, T.J. Weir, Ryan Spaulding and Cody Campbell all singled. Sam Tidaback tripled, and finally, Wes Winkle doubled.
“To our guys’ credit, the bats came alive and we put on a pretty impressive display of hitting against what I consider to be one of the best pitchers in the league,” Maloney said.
The rally gave Ball State a 7-4 advantage heading into the fifth inning, one that would remain in the Cardinals’ favor through the end of the game.
Ball State went on to win 13-7 in a game that was not competitive after the fourth inning. Baker would not allow any runs for the remainder of his time on the mound.
“Once we got Scotty some runs, he started to settle down and pitched like he has all year,” Maloney said.
He was relieved after pitching eight full innings, in which he gave up nine hits and four runs.
The victory moved Baker to 12 wins on the season, setting a program record for most wins in a single-season.
Ball State played the tournament’s first game, which started at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Now they await the winner of Kent State and Central Michigan, whom they will play at 4 p.m. today.
“We’re in a good spot now, we get to sit back and watch baseball,” Maloney said after beating Miami. “Tomorrow will be a new day, and it will be a tough challenge regardless of whether it’s Central [Michigan] or Kent [State].”