Freshman pitcher Zach Plesac throws a pitch against Bowling Green on March 21 at Ball Diamond. Plesac has received two MAC Pitcher of the Week awards this season. DN FILE PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
BASEBALL: Ball State pitching key over 14-game stretch
Heading into the 2014 baseball season, head coach Rich Maloney was unsure of how his roster would perform. Led by a rotation that featured four upperclassmen, Maloney said the fate of the team would rest on the arms of its starting pitchers.
With as many as five freshmen slated to be everyday position players, it was easy to see why the former two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year questioned Ball State’s offense.
Halfway through the year, the Cardinals have put to rest any doubts of being unable to score. For a team that was supposed to labor for runs, Ball State currently leads the Mid-American Conference in base hits with 314, home runs with 19, runs scored with 200 and is tied with Kent State for highest team batting average with .289.
The pitching has struggled at times, but with the team’s record sitting at 22-10 overall and 7-1 in conference play, Maloney and company find themselves just a half game behind Central Michigan for first place in the MAC West division.
“Offensively, we have done better than I expected,” Maloney said. “But now that we have done that, I guess that is what we need to expect, so that’s nice. I’m hoping that our starting pitching can settle into it because I really feel like that is a key for us. ... I think we’ve got to continue to develop our consistency from our starting pitchers to really take off.”
As of late, the Cardinals’ rotation has begun to resemble the force Maloney believed it could. In the team’s last 14 games, the pitching staff allowed the opposition to score 4.3 runs a game. And if a 13-14 loss at Buffalo is removed from that stretch, the number drops to 3.5 runs a contest.
The Cardinals boast a 12-2 mark in the last 14 games.
With eight pitchers owning at least one win and 10 players hitting over .250, the Ball State team has received contributions from its entire roster. Senior Sean Godfrey and freshman Zach Plesac, however, have separated themselves as early season MVP candidates.
Godfrey was recently named MAC Player of the Week. The right fielder currently leads the conference in RBIs with 37, home runs with five, doubles with 15, total bases with 74 and at bats with 130. He also ranks in the conference’s top five in slugging percentage with .569, runs scored with 29, hits with 44, stolen bases with 14 and total plate appearances with 146.
Plesac has received two MAC Pitcher of the Week awards, quickly establishing himself as a mainstay in Ball State’s rotation. The right-handed pitcher ranks second in the MAC with six wins and third with four saves.
Maloney said the entire pitching staff, including Plesac, will be key in the season’s final 22 games.
“If starting pitching settles into it, we’re going to be a factor,” he said. “I think if the [starting pitchers] are inconsistent, I think the team will be inconsistent. I think a lot of it will rely on that. ... If [junior Scott Baker and senior T.J. Weir] can pitch special down the stretch that is really going to help us.”