No. 14 Ball State men’s volleyball is now 0-3 against ranked opponents this season.
The Cardinals (4-3) fell to No. 12 Pepperdine (3-2) by a 3-1 margin Saturday. It seemed to be a match in which the Cardinals couldn’t get out of their own way, racking up 20 service errors and 24 attack errors while playing from behind for much of the match.
“In games one and three we served well, we were able to do some things with our serve to make Pepperdine uncomfortable and let our defense work,” head coach Joel Walton said. “In games two and four we just didn’t do anything with our serve and Pepperdine is too good offensively, especially at the left antenna, that if they’re setting a good ball out there and they’re in rhythm they’re hard to slow down.”
The first set started out with a back-and-forth exchange that saw the score knotted at six apiece. From there, Ball State seized control with a 7-2 run. Ball State used another run of 3-0 to put the opening set out of reach, winning by a score of 25-20 behind a strong set from senior middle attacker Matt Walsh. Walsh had four kills in set one while freshman outside hitter Ben Chinnici and sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon added three kills. Sophomore outside attacker Matt Szews had a pair of service aces.
“Blake [Reardon was good offensively, [Matt] Walsh was good offensively, but both of those guys served subpar,” Walton said. “They were a part of our inability to put consistent pressure on Pepperdine. Neither of them were serving confidently for the entire match and that’s something that we really need to change.”
It was a tale of two sets as Pepperdine controlled the second set for most of the way. A 4-0 run by Pepperdine put the score at 12-7 in its favor and Ball State never regained the lead in the set. The Cardinals were able to pull within three, but the waves used another 4-0 run to hold a 20-12 advantage before closing out the set with a score of 25-16.
The third set proved to be a battle as Pepperdine began on a 3-0 run right out of the gate courtesy of three consecutive attack errors by Ball State. That 3-0 deficit quickly turned to a 7-2 margin with Ball State on the wrong end of the scoring column. The Cardinals didn’t get discouraged. They kept fighting and got the score as close as 24-23 before the Waves took advantage of a fourth chance at set point, winning the third by a score of 25-23.
Pepperdine scored the first three points of what would be the deciding set, with the help of two attack errors by Ball State and a service ace. Ball State never got closer than 6-3 in set four as things quickly spiraled out of control for Ball State in its first match away from Worthen Arena this season. Pepperdine kept riding its wave of momentum all the way to a convincing 25-14 victory in the fourth set.
Overall, the Cardinals couldn’t overcome both their own errors and the .415 hitting percentage of Pepperdine.
“We show that we have the ability to play with anybody, but where we’re struggling is just that consistency,” Walton said. “We’re allowing our confidence to be shaken way too easily. We have to have some experience this year where we do dig our way out of a hole … until we do that a couple of times it is going to be hard for the guys to be confident because it’s something they haven’t accomplished or done yet.”
Aside from tonight’s serving woes, senior middle attacker Matt Walsh continues to be a bright spot for Ball State. He finished with 13 kills and six total blocks on the way to a .500 hitting percentage, his third consecutive match with a hitting percentage of .500 or more.
Chinnici finished the match with seven kills and five digs, while Szews added another five digs to go along with five kills. Reardon tied Walsh for the team lead in kills with a season-high of 13.
Ball State will have to put this one out of its mind quickly because the team will be back on the court Sunday to take on George Mason in its first true road match of the season. The opening serve is set for Jan. 28 at 5 p.m.