RECAP: Harmon shines in Ball State baseball win vs. Fort Wayne
TJ Harmon threw more than three times as many innings in Ball State's 3-0 win over Fort Wayne as he had all season.
The sophomore right-handed pitcher tossed 7.1 scoreless frames, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out five in his first win of the season.
"He answered the bell," head coach Rich Maloney said. "I know this year he hadn't gotten to pitch as much as he would've liked because he hadn't earned it."
Harmon entered Tuesday with more runs allowed (8) than appearances (5) and had only pitched 2.1 innings. His performance against Fort Wayne dropped his ERA from 30.86 to 7.45, and Maloney said Ball State needed Harmon to step up.
"Most of our guys weren't available that have been getting the innings," Maloney said. "For Harmon to step up the way he did was really huge for the ball club."
Harmon wasn't alone by any means. With Ball State holding a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth, Mastodons sophomore second baseman Brandon Yoho hit a hard ground ball to the right of Cardinals shortstop Justin Kirkpartrick.
The junior slid on his knees to backhand the ball before jumping off the turf to fire the ball to first base to end the inning. Harmon walked off the field with a wide-eyed grin, holding his cap in his outstretched right hand to salute Kirkpatrick.
"I knew if I just threw it in there, [the fielders would] make the plays for me," Harmon said.
Senior second baseman Sean Kennedy hit a home run in the bottom of the sixth for a 2-0 lead, then Kirkpatrick did it again.
Fort Wayne freshman designated hitter Travis Upp hit a hard ground ball to almost the same spot as Yoho. Kirkpatrick once again slid on the turf, jumped and threw to first for another out.
"We don't really practice those plays," Kirkpatrick said. "In [batting practice] if I get them I take the opportunity and I try to work on it, but it's mainly just instinct. I don't think about it, it just happens."
Kennedy added a similar play in the top of the eighth, robbing redshirt junior third baseman Shannon Baker of a hit by sliding to backhand a ball up the middle.
For all of Ball State's flash, the Cardinals originally took the lead on what should have been a routine play for the Mastodons.
In the bottom of the fifth, Kirkpatrick stood in the box with junior designated hitter Colin Brockhouse on second. Kirkpatrick hit a fly ball to right-center field, shallow enough that a catch would've likely prevented Brockhouse from advancing.
But Mastodons freshman right fielder Mike Snyder misplayed it. The ball skipped off his glove into right field. Instead of a runner on second with one out, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with no outs.
Sophomore left fielder Roman Baisa knocked in Brockhouse with a sacrifice fly for the 1-0 lead.
"It boosts [your confidence]," Harmon said. "When it's 0-0, you're pitching not not make a big mistake, really. But once we got one run, I just relaxed."
Ball State's batters only recorded five hits, but it was still enough to out-hit Fort Wayne. The Mastodons only recorded four hits, and senior shortstop Jackson Boyce, who went 3-4, recorded all three hits off Harmon.
Redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Kevin Marnon relieved Harmon in the eighth inning, recording his first career save. Maloney said Marnon, who threw 24 pitches against Fort Wayne, is still going to start against Ohio State Wednesday.
Harmon, however, won't pitch again as he threw 115 pitches. His performance, though, will help his case to get more looks on the mound.
"When you earn it like that, you get other opportunities," Maloney said.
Ball State travels to Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday to take on Ohio State at 6:35 p.m.