Ball State baseball concluded its second weekend of play at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic in New Orleans Saturday night when it split a pair of games to make the team 1-2 on the weekend.
Ball State (3-4) fell 10-1 to tournament host New Orleans (4-4) Friday, picked up a 14-6 win over Iowa (5-1) Saturday evening, followed by a 4-2 loss to Virginia Tech to close out the weekend.
Although the team fell under .500 on the weekend, head coach Rich Maloney is satisfied with his team’s win over Big Ten foe Iowa, who was undefeated going into the contest.
“It was certainly great beating Iowa, who was undefeated,” Maloney said. “It was nice to beat them pretty handedly, that was real good for us.”
The Cardinals exploded for a season-high 14 runs against the Hawkeyes. Ball State trailed 2-0 early, but responded with two runs in the third inning, followed by seven in the fourth to blow open the game. Seniors Seth Freed and Colin Brockhouse and junior Zach Milam each recorded a home run in the victory.
“Our hitters came to life in the Iowa game and we faced their No. 2 pitcher, which was expected to be a very difficult challenge,” Maloney said. “Our hitters rose up and it was nice to see several of them get some big hits. I thought Brockhouse showed signs this week. When he hits the ball, it’s just loud and exciting. Freed got another home run and it was so nice to see Zach Milam get some hits this week.”
Freshman pitcher Kyle Nicolas got his first collegiate win in the game against the Hawkeyes. The righty went five innings and struck out four batters. Freshman pitcher Drey Jameson then came in and struck out nine batters in three innings of relief work.
“Drey Jameson came in yesterday and the first weekend, he was a little bit shaky,” Maloney said. “This weekend, he walked three, which was too many in the innings that he pitched, but he struck out nine, which is electric, and he was up to 96 mph, which is electric too. Him [and Freed] are a big part of our future.”
Freshman right-hander Cody Freed came in against Iowa, where he pitched one inning and recorded a strikeout.
“Cody Freed has been outstanding in the bullpen, period,” Maloney said. “He’s our submarine pitcher and every game he’s been in has been really pleasing. We’ve got some young players here that I think have a chance to have a great future.”
In Ball State’s last contest of the weekend, it dropped a close game to Virginia Tech. In a game that went on well after 11 p.m. that topped off a long evening of play, the Hokies scored a pair of runs in the first and third innings to open an early 4-0 lead.
It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Cardinals got on the board thanks to an RBI groundout from senior shortstop Justin Kirkpatrick. Remaining consistent at the plate, Milam hit a two-out RBI single to make it a 4-2 game.
In a late-game effort to put at least two runs across the board, Ball State failed to execute when it put two hitters on base in the eighth inning to ultimately fall to Virginia Tech 4-2.
“It was disappointing in the Virginia Tech game because that was a winnable game for us and we walked too many guys, which costed us a few runs,” Maloney said. “But to their credit, they made a great play at the end with the bases loaded. Their guy dove and snagged [the ball], threw to second and turned the double play, and if that would have gone through for a hit, the whole game is different.”
In a winnable game like Maloney said, it came down to the team’s pitching staff. Ball State gave up 10 walks to Virginia Tech. Sophomore left-hander Garett Simmons (0-1) picked up the loss as he recorded five walks and gave up four runs and two hits in 2.2 innings pitched.
“I was really pleased with some of the pitching that I saw from us,” Maloney said. “It’s showing that we could be at a really high level, it’s just that we’re walking too many guys, but we’re striking out a bunch of guys, too.
“Our stuff is good enough, we’re just not consistent enough and that’s part of the growth. It’s encouraging, because it shows that over time, we have the potential to be a really good pitching staff and if you have a good pitching staff, you’re going to win a lot of games. I have a lot of guys showing me pitches that I’m grading really high.”
On the offensive side of things, Milam led the Cardinals at the plate in the three games played in New Orleans. Milam averaged .429 at the plate with four RBIs and a home run. Brockhouse and redshirt senior Jeff Riedel each finished with batting averages over .350, while Riedel recorded a .538 on-base percentage.
Even with this trio that led the Cardinals at the plate, Maloney sees a lot of room for improvement as his team prepares for the next weekend of competition.
“Overall on the weekend, it was not what we had ultimately wanted because you always want to win every weekend that you go into,” Maloney said. “But at the same token, we’re going to take away a lot of positives.”
Ball State returns to action this weekend at the Johnny Gardner Law Group Tournament in Conway, South Carolina. The team will face Coastal Carolina, Radford and Maryland.