Despite having two match-point opportunities in the fourth set, Ball State men’s volleyball (5-6, 0-1 MIVA) couldn’t shut the door on defending champion Ohio State (8-2, 1-0 MIVA), falling 3-2 (25-21, 13-25, 25-18, 25-27, 10-15) to the No. 5 team in the nation.
Ball State fought until the very end of the nail-biting Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opener.
“There were positives tonight at times in how we played,” head coach Joel Walton said. “The frustration is just that we got into moments in games where we were making back-to-back errors.
“That type of inconsistency makes it very difficult to come out with a win at the end of the night. We have to get more consistent from the start to the finish of a match. If we win game one, our guys need to realize that game two is almost more important.”
The first set started out neck and neck. Neither team led by more than two points until a 3-0 Buckeyes scoring run gave them an 11-15 lead. Ball State was able to battle back with a 4-0 run, which was capped off by two straight kills by senior middle attacker Mitch Weiler. From there, the action went back to the back-and-forth variety. Ohio State pulled within a point with the score at 21-20, but a 4-1 Ball State scoring run would be enough to pick up the win in the first set.
“I thought our guys started out really well,” Walton said. “In game one, we served well. We handled their serve and ran good offense.”
The second set was a completely different story.
The Cardinals were able to keep it close until the score reached 6-6 early in the set. That’s when Ohio State laid on a scoring onslaught. The Buckeyes used four separate 3-0 scoring runs and another 4-0 run to win the set in dominating fashion.
“We really broke down,” Walton said. “We didn’t do a very good job with our serve, and they served us off the court.”
Through two sets, Ball State had a .140 hitting percentage and 15 kills. Ohio State held a .320 hitting percentage to go along with 26 kills but was plagued by a dozen service errors through the first pair of sets.
The third set was just what people would expect from two MIVA competitors.
The two teams traded blows, neither leading by more than two points until a 4-0 Ball State run gave allowed it to take control of the set. The Buckeyes would never close the gap to less than three points. An Ohio State service error would lock up the victory for Ball State and put the visitors in the driver's seat entering the fourth set.
The fourth game started out with domination by the Cardinals, but they would soon find out that the defending champions wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Ball State leaped out to a quick 7-2 run behind five kills from senior middle attacker Matt Walsh. Ohio State would respond with a 4-0 run of its own to get right back into the set. After both teams went on multiple runs, Ohio State held a late 22-18 lead. Ball State would respond with a 5-0 run to regain control of the set, but couldn’t finish off the hosts. Ohio State would finally complete the comeback and force a deciding fifth set with a 27-25 win in the fourth game.
The Cardinals played with the heart of a team that can compete with anyone in the nation but ultimately fell short in the final set.
Tied at 8-8 in the fifth game, Ohio State would close the match on a 7-2 run, completing the comeback and winning its 35th consecutive conference match.
“Our passing broke,” Walton said. “We dug a big hole and weren’t able to get back to a competitive point in that game.”
Overall, three Buckeyes shouldered the load in terms of kills. Maxime Hervoir led the way with a match-high 19, while Jake Hanes and Nicolas Szerszen weren’t far behind with 18 and 15, respectively.
For the Cardinals, Walsh looked like he found his groove again. The senior middle attacker led the team with 15 kills and only one service error to complement a .556 hitting percentage. Weiler and sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon rounded out the Cardinals in double digit kills with 11 and 10 apiece.
“Matt [Walsh] competed well,” Walton said. “He had some moments where he served really well for us. He had a number of blocks, and he was a big offensive weapon for us all night long, so his play was fantastic.”
In the end, Ohio State’s .319 hitting percentage was too much for Ball State to overcome.
Ball State will look to bounce back from the loss by facing Mckendree on Saturday, Feb. 10. The match, which will be Ball State’s last of six straight away from home, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.