Ball State baseball (21-12, 7-2 MAC) will take its Mid-American Conference-best offense to Bloomington April 13 when it takes on Indiana University (17-13, 4-2 Big Ten), which has the Big Ten's second-best pitching staff.
The Cardinals are ranked 118th in the National Collegiate Athletic Association RPI, 49 spots ahead of the No. 167 Hoosiers, but junior right-handed pitcher and left fielder Zach Plesac said Indiana’s affiliation with the Big Ten affects fans’ perceptions of the matchup.
“Definitely the Big Ten [teams are] looked at as better programs, bigger schools, more students – just better individual schools compared to the MAC,” he said. “That’s not necessarily true because I think the way we’ve been playing and the way we handle ourselves is just as good as anybody in the country.”
Cardinal batters are hitting a combined .307 on the year, the best rate in the Mid-American Conference and 30th in the NCAA.
Defending MAC West Division Player of the Week Caleb Stayton is second in the MAC with a .400 batting average. The junior first baseman is also third in the NCAA with 48 RBIs.
Junior right fielder Alex Call is the only player in the MAC with a better average than Stayton, hitting .417 on the year. Call is also second in the NCAA with 43 runs scored.
Head coach Rich Maloney said the team's strong junior class – six juniors have started all 33 games so far this season – is the backbone of the lineup.
"We’ve always felt that was the strength of our team," he said. "Back when those kids were freshman, there were about five of them starting in the lineup when we won that 2014 Mid-American Conference [regular season] title. We thought when they became juniors, they’d become a potent hitting team."
Ball State also leads the MAC with 236 runs scored in 33 games, which ranks 27th in the NCAA.
The Hoosier pitching staff, however, is second in the Big Ten and 12th in the NCAA with a 2.85 ERA.
On the mound, Ball State pitchers have a 3.80 ERA, good for second best in the MAC. The pitching staff will face off against an Indiana lineup that has hit .264 this year.
Both Ball State and Indiana are carrying winning streaks into the game — the Cardinals have won six straight games and nine of their last 10 while the Hoosiers have won five in a row.
Maloney said the Hoosiers, who have reached the NCAA Regionals in three consecutive seasons including a run to the College World Series in 2013, are “a really good team, period.”
“They’re relentless," he said. "They’re going to bring in pitcher after pitcher that’s gonna be really solid and have prospect arms, and then they’re gonna have hitters in the lineup that can hurt you and are used to winning. But our kids are now, too. We’re used to winning now.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington.