After he was greeted by his teammates at home plate after rounding the bases, Ball State junior first basemen John Ricotta served as the decision maker with a go-ahead two-run shot in the seventh inning to give Ball State baseball a 3-1 lead over Central Michigan to path the way to a victory.
Ball State (14-11, 3-1 MAC) recorded a 5-2 win over Central Michigan (7-18-1, 2-2 MAC) in the first game of the series on Friday afternoon at First Merchants Bank Park.
"We got the timely hits," Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said. "The timely hit Brockhouse had when we didn't even have a hit yet, and he rips that ball through there and we scored that run which was huge. Timely hits are worth gold. Ricotta's timely hit...he's had two of them now. He had a big one against Kent State when we were down 2-0, and then this one in a 1-1 ball game and he hits a homerun."
In a pitcher's duel between Ball State right-hander John Baker and Central Michigan right-hander Pat Leatherman, the Cardinal's two-run seventh inning broke the 1-1 tie. Sophomore infielder Noah Powell led off the inning with a walk and rounded the bases when Ricotta put the ball over the wall in left field.
"I knew he was starting early with curveballs to me and there was also a base open with just a man on second, so it wasn't a curveball, but I was kind of looking for it...and he left one over the middle of the plate and I barreled it up," Ricotta said. "That's what we play for, I was really excited to give the team that lift."
Prior to the seventh inning, senior Colin Brockhouse broke Leatherman's no-hitter in the bottom of the third inning. Senior Seth Freed reached base on an error by Central Michigan's second baseman and came in on Brockhouse's RBI single to give Ball State a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third.
In 6.1 innings of work, Leatherman had a solid outing recording 12 strikeouts, and only allowed three hits for two earned runs. The junior also struck out the side in two innings of the game.
"It was truly a pitcher's duel," Maloney said. "Their pitcher was outstanding and dominant. It's funny, because it was mostly fastballs and we were just swinging and missing. We didn't swing at all of them, but we swung and missed a ton so that guy has some really good stuff, so you have to give him credit. Johnny Baker gritted it out and I don't think he had his best stuff, but he kept us going and only gave up one run through six innings, which was outstanding."
A leadoff walk and a pair of singles allowed the Chippewas to get on the board in the top of the fifth inning to make it 1-1. Central Michigan stranded three base runners as Ball State righty John Baker picked up his sixth strikeout of the game, along with a diving play from Ricotta to end the inning.
"A lot of guys contributed in this game, but I think the play of the game was honestly Ricotta's diving play," Maloney said. "He dives with bases loaded and if that goes through, they score and it's a whole different game. There's moments in a game and we made the play when we had to."
Baker held his own against Leatherman and closed out the outing allowing one earned run off six hits in 6.0 innings of work. The sophomore struck out six and walked one.
Redshirt junior Griffin Hulecki tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth with a two-run homerun to left field to pick up his first homerun and 14th RBI of the season to put the Cardinals on the field in the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Hulecki sits atop Ball State's offense with a .329 batting average.
Ball State's call to the bullpen started with junior right-hander Nick Floyd, who came into relieve Baker after the sixth inning. Floyd's three-up, three-down inning put the Cardinals in a good position heading into the eighth.
However, Central Michigan threatened in the ninth when sophomore righty Nolan Gazouski took the mound for Ball State and walked three batters to load the bases. The Chippewas picked up one run, before redshirt junior TJ Baker took over the mound to record his first save of the season.
"Floyd was outstanding and [Gazouski's] first inning was phenomenal and then he just lost it, which happens sometimes," Maloney said. "Thankfully, TJ Baker saved him and that's part of being a team."
Ball State is now riding a three-game win streak with a pair of wins over Kent State and Valparaiso, along with today's victory.
"We're feeling good and everyone is playing well," Ricotta said. "Pitching has done a good job, so we're going to keep it rolling and see how far we can go with this win streak. We just have to keep doing what we're doing."
Ball State and Central Michigan will face off again Saturday at 1 p.m. in the second game of the series at First Merchants Ball Park.