Ball State took every blow that Harvard delivered early on before surrendering just nine points in the deciding set, winning the fourth by a score of 25-9 behind a strong offensive performance that helped it close out the weekend with a second consecutive win.
A back-and-forth opening set saw Harvard (0-2) score the first three points and grab the momentum early until a service error by senior setter Marko Kostich allowed Ball State (4-2) to get on the board and get some momentum of its own. Despite the back-and-forth action, the Cardinals didn’t get their first lead of the set until the score was 11-10.
The Crimson were able to battle back and take another three-point lead, but the Cardinals never let the set get away from them. Sophomore setter Jake Romano delivered two timely service aces late in the set on the way to a 25-22 win in the opening set.
Sophomore outside attacker Matt Szews and senior middle attacker Matt Walsh led the way for Ball State with four kills apiece, while Walsh had a .375 hitting percentage through the opening set. Sophomore libero Nick Lavanchy had three of Ball State’s 11 digs in set one.
Ball State jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in the second set, but couldn’t keep the momentum on its side. Harvard responded with a 5-1 run to knot up the score. From there, the action was back to the back-and-forth variety seen in the first set. With the score tied at 22 apiece in the second set, the Crimson scored three of the set’s final four points to take it by a margin of 25-23.
The third set had the usual back-and-forth that seemed to be a theme of the match. With the score knotted at 16, Ball State used a 6-1 run to take permanent control of the set on the way to a 25-21 win, which put it in position to carry momentum into the fourth set as they looked to close out the match..
“We settled in that last set, found a rhythm offensively and our defense got to a point where they figured out how to stop some of the things Harvard had been doing against us,” head coach Joel Walton said.
Szews didn’t mince words when saying what changed and allowed the Cardinals to take control.
“Confidence, 100 percent,” Szews said. “Especially serving-wise we went back behind the line and hit our serve and hit them well.”
Szews led the team in kills with 13 to go along with a .161 hitting percentage. Walsh had another solid outing to complement last night’s performance, finishing 12 kills complemented by a .611 hitting percentage to make it back-to-back nights with a hitting percentage over .610. Freshman outside hitter Ben Chinnici rounded out the Cardinals with double figure kills with 10 and a .400 hitting percentage.
“Spreading out the offense keeps the other team guessing who’s going to be getting the ball and builds confidence for not only the individual players getting sets and kills but the whole team that we have the ability to take care of balls when we need to,” Szews said.
Walton was pleased with his team’s ability to get contributions from several different players.
“I think that’s always a good thing, the less predictable you are the better your offense is,” Walton said. “We’re getting different people looks in different rotations.
“In games three and four we really got on track offensively, credit to Courtland Scharenborg for coming off the bench and delivering a ball that got our guys a chance to take some good rips.”
Overall, Ball State finished with 50 kills to Harvard’s 41 and the Cardinals had a solid .327 hitting percentage. Ball State finished with five aces, 37 digs and Romano and sophomore setter Courtland Scharenborg combined for 39 of the team’s 45 assists.
The Cardinals wrapped up a stretch of six consecutive matches at home and will now be on the road for their next six. Ball State will travel to Pepperdine Saturday, Jan. 27. The opening serve will be at 7:30 p.m.