Ball State men’s volleyball needed to end the non-conference portion of its schedule on a high note.
Ball State (5-5) took down Saint Francis (5-7) by a decisive 3-1 (26-24, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19) margin to earn its first road win of the season.
“This is a place where we’ve struggled in years past,” head coach Joel Walton said. “Tonight was huge. Going into next week’s matches against Ohio State and McKendree, it starts to move us in the direction we want to be going to begin conference play.”
There was no shortage of effort from either team in the opening set.
Ball State started slowly with three service errors accounting for the first four Saint Francis points. A 4-0 Saint Francis scoring run gave Ball State a 7-10 deficit to overcome, and that’s exactly what it did. After the momentum stayed on the side of Saint Francis for the majority of the set, Ball State used a 4-0 run of its own to pull within a point. A block by sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon inched by a diving Saint Francis player and put the Cardinals at set point. Ball State would capitalize, winning the opening set 26-24 after an attack error from Saint Francis.
“Our guys fought pretty hard in game one, and that was an important game for us to win, to come from behind,” Walton said.
The Cardinals looked to pick up right where they left off in the second set, and that’s what they did.
Ball State jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead to start and held that lead for much of the second game. Despite that, the Cardinals couldn’t hold off the Red Flash long enough. Saint Francis used a 4-1 run to knot the score at 11 apiece. From there, the momentum belonged to the Red Flash. Saint Francis would use a 3-0 run to seize control of the set, never looking back after doing so. A kill by senior outside hitter Stephen Braswell allowed Saint Francis to even up the match at 1-1 with a 25-21 victory in the second set.
It wouldn’t take long for Ball State to take the momentum right back.
With the score tied at four early on, Ball State would go on a 13-8 run to take control of the third set and capture a lead they wouldn’t surrender the rest of the way. The Cardinals used a 3-0 run to seal the set, winning by a score of 25-19 to take a 2-1 advantage heading into the fourth game.
“We made a roster switch in set three and carried that over into set four and that made a big difference,” Walton said.
The Cardinals moved Reardon to the right side and brought freshman outside hitter Ben Chinnici off the bench to play the left side as attackers. Those moves combined with subbing in sophomore libero Nick Lavanchy to take junior Adam Wessel’s libero spot equaled a recipe for success for the Cardinals, who wouldn’t drop a set after the changes.
Ball State looked to have no plans of dragging out the match one set four rolled around.
Both teams exchanged blows until the score sat at 14 apiece in a close fourth game. After that, Ball State would take complete control. Two kills from Reardon and another from Chinnici capped a 3-0 run for the Cardinals and put them in the driver seat. As Ball State continued to add on points, Saint Francis had no answer. Chinnici would send the deciding kill off the Saint Francis block attempt to seal Ball State’s first road victory of the season with a 25-19 win in set four.
Ball State finished the match with a 48-36 advantage in kills to go along with a .172 hitting percentage. Strong Ball State defense forced Saint Francis to hit just .087. Ball State’s players combined for 21 total blocks in the match, with senior middle attacker Anthony Lebryk and sophomore setter Jake Romano leading the way with six each.
Lavanchy led the way for Ball State with 14 digs and senior outside attacker Mitch Weiler was not far behind with a dozen of his own. Reardon had a strong performance to close out the weekend. The sophomore outside attacker posted season-highs in digs (nine), service aces (two) and kills with a team-leading 15. Chinnici posted eight kills off the bench, including the match-winner.
Walton liked what he saw out of Reardon.
“Blake [Reardon] is one of our best attackers,” Walton said. “He has a great arm. He does a good job of getting his feet to the ball to attack and he hits a good variety of shots. He’s for sure one of the arms on our team that we want to put the ball in front of as much as we can.”
The Cardinals will hope to ride this momentum into conference play as the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association portion of their schedule starts next week. Ball State will open MIVA play on the road at No. 5 Ohio State. That match is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8.