Russ Matt Invitational schedule
6 p.m. Feb. 26: Milwaukee
11 a.m. Feb. 27: Kent State
6 p.m. Feb. 27: George Washington
11 a.m. Feb. 28: Milwaukee
Ball State baseball (1-3) will play three games this weekend in the Russ Matt Invitational in Winter Haven, Fla., including a game against Mid-American Conference rival Kent State (0-3) Feb. 27.
Head coach Rich Maloney said he and Kent State head coach Jeff Duncan scheduled a non-conference game because the two teams aren’t going to face off in conference play this season.
"We decided that since we weren't on the schedule for the next two years, ... let's meet somewhere, let's play," Maloney said.
Kent State leads the all-time series 62-53 and has won three of the last four matchups. The Cardinals are 7-5 against the Golden Flashes since Maloney returned to Ball State in 2013. In his first stint with the Cardinals from 1996-2002, the two programs split the series 12-12.
Maloney said he expects both teams to contend for the conference title.
"For our kids, it'll be a big game because it's just a rivalry game," he said. "It's two teams and we know we have to go through each other to get to the NCAA tournament."
In 2013, Ball State went 1-2 against Kent State in the regular season but beat Kent State twice in the MAC tournament. The next year, Ball State swept Kent State in the regular season 3-0 but lost to Kent State in the tournament.
Ball State heads to Florida after going 1-3 in its opening weekend in Surprise, Ariz. Maloney said the Cardinals need to limit their opponents’ rallies in order to post a better record in Winter Haven.
“You can’t have multiple mistakes in the same inning,” he said. “Easier said than done, but you can’t let it snowball. … That’s the secret to staying out of the big inning. The big innings happen because of freebies, not just because of hitting.”
In Ball State's losses, including a 7-6 loss to Oregon State (2-1), the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association’s No. 5 team in the country, it allowed its opponents to score three or more runs in an inning five times.
Maloney, however, said he was pleased with how his team bounced back to beat Utah Valley (3-2) 3-1 one day after an 11-5 loss to Utah (1-3).
"I always tell the boys, when you play a 56-game regular season, you’re gonna have eight games where you get crushed, you’re gonna have eight games where you crush somebody else, and the truth lies in the other 40,” he said. “The Utah game was one of those eight."
Ball State batters hit .193 in last weekend’s series, but Maloney said he isn’t worried.
“Sometimes you’ll look at averages and you’ll say, 'This guy wasn’t hitting good,' and that’s not always true,” he said. “For example, we had a few guys that hit the ball pretty good and they got nothing to show for it. So you don’t change that, you don’t panic. Guys hit the ball hard and you win, that’s the deal.”
Ball State will take on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26, Kent State at 11 a.m. on Feb. 27, George Washington at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 and Milwaukee again at 11 a.m. on Feb. 28.