PREVIEW: Ball State baseball hosts Dayton in home opener

<p>Seven Cardinals named to baseball's Academic All-MAC team.</p>

Seven Cardinals named to baseball's Academic All-MAC team.

Ball State baseball plays its home opener Saturday in a doubleheader against Dayton.

“It’s always better to be off the road,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “And we’ve been road warriors for a while now.”

The Cardinals are 8-8, but six of those losses were against ranked opponents, including one loss to Louisville, which is is ranked No. 1 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Baseball America and the USA Today Coaches' Poll, and four losses to Oregon State, which is ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball's poll. The other loss was to No. 20 Coastal Carolina, the defending national champion.

“I think what you take from that is — you know we’re not going to play any higher level team than we just played for the rest of the season,” Maloney said. “Unless you make it to the NCAA regionals, then you might play one of those teams. But never the less we gained valuable experience in competing against the best and realizing that, in the great game of baseball, anybody can win on any given day."

As basic as it seems, the Cardinals need to score runs to win — they’re 8-2 when they score at least three runs and 0-6 when they score zero or one.

Redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Kevin Marnon isn't too worried about the run support, though.

“Some days the hitters are going score 20 runs, but we might give up 21,” Marnon said. “Some days we might give up one, but the hitters might not get any. It’s the way baseball works sometimes.”

Maloney said he's pleased his pitching staff has been able to keep games close, but he wants to see an improvement from the bats.

“We’ve got to be able to fight our way into getting five runs, find a way to do that,” Maloney said.

First-team All-Mid-American Conference senior first baseman Caleb Stayton missed the last five games with a concussion, and the Cardinals are 1-4 without him in the lineup. He leads the team with a .426 on-base percentage and is second with a .278 batting average.

Those four losses, though, were all road games against Oregon State, and the Beavers' 1.20 staff ERA leads the nation. Dayton could present an opportunity for Ball State's bats to heat up — the Flyers' 7.07 ERA is one of the 50 worst marks in Division I.

“Hopefully when our guys start seeing pitching that’s more conducive to our schedule, hopefully we can score more runs,” Maloney said.

But Dayton is also a great opponent for the home opener, Maloney said, because it's only about a two-hour drive away.

“We decided to split it up, this way we both save on hotels,” Maloney said. “Easy drive there, easy drive back for both schools. Hopefully we’ll have this relationship for years.”

Ball State was originally scheduled to play at Dayton Friday, but weather pushed the game back to Sunday.

Saturday’s double-header at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex begins at noon, followed by another double-header at noon Sunday in Dayton.


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