First Round Games (May 20)
No. 3 Ohio vs. No. 6 Bowling Green
No. 2 Kent State vs. No. 7 Western Michigan
No. 1 Central Michigan vs. No. 8 Akron
No. 4 Toledo vs. No. 5 Ball State
For the first time in about 10 weeks, Ball State baseball coach Rich Maloney can say his team is healthy.
The Cardinals got their original lineup back for the last series of the season, and made it into the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the No. 5 seed. Ball State finished the regular season at 30-23 after starting the season ranked No. 31 nationally.
“[May 16] was the first day we’ve had all our guys healthy and back in nine or 10 weeks," Maloney said. "So we’ve got our full compliment of players. Everybody’s healthy, everybody’s back and those are the things that go unseen that affect you."
The Cardinals started the season with an even 7-7 record. After ripping off 10 straight wins in March, they were sitting pretty at 17-7.
But then the tides turned.
Scott Baker, Alex Call, Ryan Spaulding, Sean Kennedy, Caleb Stayton and Matt Haro - all key contributors - have missed time due to various injuries.
Maloney said the team is fortunate to be healthy, and there are no excuses heading into the postseason.
“I think it’s good that we’re coming in as a fifth seed," Maloney said. "Obviously you want to win a league title - Central [Michigan] did a phenomenal job, had a great season much like we did last year - maybe we can reverse the fortune.”
Ball State won the MAC regular season title last year. But this team has its mind on another goal.
“This is the first time in my 20 years that we’ve actually set winning the tournament as our No. 1 goal," Maloney said. "Normally we’ve always - when I was both at Ball State and Michigan - set our goal to win the regular season title.”
To win the tournament, Maloney said it starts with the pitching staff.
The team will need a good performance from sophomore Zach Plesac in the first game against Toledo and Cameron Palmer. The Cardinals' lone win against the Rockets this season came in a 4-3 win over Palmer.
Game two or three would likely feature Baker, who said he feels pretty good coming back.
“I always expect a lot out of myself … I haven’t been starting in a while, but I started this weekend and it felt good," Baker said. "My arm feels better than it has in a long time.”
Both on the mound and at the plate, the little parts of the game will shine the brightest in the postseason. Maloney said all the games are magnified.
Taking it one game at a time is cliche, but it's what Ball State is doing to improve on a season that they expected more out of in the beginning.
“If we do [the little things], I think we’ll be able to go on a big streak and we will be able to win the tournament easily," Baker said. "I know we have the team to do that, it just comes down to those little things.”
Winning the MAC Tournament is one thing this year's senior class hasn't accomplished.
But after taking two of three in its last series, Ball State appears to have regained the momentum it needs to make some noise and earn an NCAA Tournament berth.
“I don’t think anybody really wants to face Ball State," Maloney said.