BASEBALL: Ball State eyes MAC Championship
Through 11 conference games, the Ball State baseball team is off to its best start since 2010. At 9-2, Ball State trails Central Michigan by one victory for first place in the Mid-American conference’s West Division.
MAC preseason polls, voted on by the league’s head coaches, tabbed Ball State to win the MAC West — a feat the team has not accomplished since 2006. Ball State finished the 2006 season 38-22 overall with a 16-9 record in the MAC.
Since winning the West Division through last season, Ball State’s overall record was 163-208. The team has missed the conference tournament three times during that time.
Senior Kyle Raleigh has experienced winning and losing seasons. His emphasis remains on winning a division title.
“That’s been the goal since the beginning,” he said. “We came so close last year in the [MAC] tournament. ... Seeing guys dumping Gatorade bottles on our home field was a big slap in the face. I know for a fact that everybody that was there last year has that engrained in their memory, and we can’t wait to dump Gatorade bottles at Northern Illinois this year when we win the whole MAC.”
After opening conference play with a three-game sweep over Bowling Green, last season’s MAC champion, the preseason polls appeared to be accurate.
With its conference-leading offense, the Cardinals have yet to lose back-to-back MAC contests and boast a 6-0 MAC record at Ball Diamond.
“Pretty much every time I go up to bat, I feel like there is somebody on base,” senior Sean Godfrey said. “Hitting is contagious. You see somebody else get a hit and it’s like, ‘Man, I might as well get up there and get a hit, too.’ ... When you know you are getting an at bat every other inning, it’s a lot easier.”
At times, the Cardinals’ lineup has made scoring look easy, averaging 8.5 runs in conference games while scoring seven or more runs in five of them. The offense was on full display in the team’s first match with Eastern Michigan when Ball State clubbed 19 hits on its way to a 20-5 rout.
Despite the offensive production, head coach Rich Maloney said his team will go as far as the pitching takes them, and after some early season inconsistency, the staff as a whole has regrouped as of late.
In Ball State’s last outing, freshman Zach Plesac pitched a complete game, while senior T.J. Weir has pitched seven and eight innings in his last two starts.
“If are starter goes at least six [innings], we can guarantee we are going to get a win,” Raleigh said. “... [Weir] and [Plesac] have been just awesome, [junior Scott Baker] has done a hell of a job just like he did last year, and it’s just been nice to have those guys out there starting for us.”
Ball State will need its rotation to continue to perform well because after a three-game series against 13-18 Western Michigan, the competition becomes stronger. With games against Central Michigan, Akron, Kent State and Northern Illinois still on the schedule, Ball State will face the three teams that currently sit in on top, as well as last season’s West Division champion.