After falling behind two sets to nil, No. 12 Ball State men’s volleyball caught fire and started a comeback for the ages against No. 7 Ohio State, defeating the back-to-back defending national champions 3-2 (16-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-17, 15-13) on Senior Night to claim the third seed in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament.
“It was a huge win, especially nearing the playoffs and against Ohio State because the last two times we played them we’ve lost in five,” senior middle attacker Matt Walsh said. “It shows that we want to be the team that no one wants to play in the playoffs, and this was kind of a good step in the right direction.”
The opening set was one to forget for Ball State (17-11, 10-4 MIVA). A 10-2 run made the difference for Ohio State (20-5, 11-3 MIVA) as the hosts never found much of a rhythm in the set. After that run, Ohio State coasted to the end of the set with a 25-16 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Buckeyes had a torrid hitting percentage of .600, while the Cardinals were ice cold at .077. The visitors seemed to find every gap in Ball State’s defense, finishing with 17 kills through the first set.
The second set was much closer, but a couple of late missteps were too much to overcome for Ball State. After jumping out to a 6-1 lead and holding it most of the way, a service error from Matt Szews sparked a comeback for Ohio State. Although the Cardinals led 22-20 down the stretch, a 5-0 run by the Buckeyes closed the set with a 25-22 win for the visitors. The second game was one that energized the crowd with a lot of long rallies throughout, but Ball State ultimately fell short against the No. 7 team in the nation.
Both teams traded blows throughout the third set before Ball State came away with its first win of the match. With a fired up crowd on their side, the Cardinals hung with the Buckeyes every step of the way, eventually seizing the lead for the rest of the set with a 5-0 spurt to hold the lead at 23-18. Ohio State grabbed a few late points to keep things interesting, but a service error from Maxime Hervoir iced the set for Ball State by a score of 25-22.
“The crowd getting into it just builds momentum,” Mitch Weiler said. “It wasn’t there earlier in the match, but after set two, getting some consistent plays out there and getting the crowd back into it was huge for us. ... We’re very proud of the way we played and finished tonight.”
Ball State looked like a completely different team in the fourth set with the help of its supportive crowd of 2,087 people. The Cardinals started out in a back-and-forth game, but that quickly changed as they took control. A 4-0 run put Ball State up 13-7, and after that, the lead was never less than four. A service ace from senior Matt Walsh eventually put the set away for Ball State as the hosts won by a score of 25-17, forcing a deciding fifth set on Senior Night.
“It’s a great crowd tonight,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We expect that when we play Ohio State. We expect a lot of people to show up, and it just seemed like all night long, they were waiting for us to give them the opportunity to get involved.”
The Cardinals dug deep in the fifth set and took advantage of their chance to defeat the back-to-back defending national champions. Both teams exchanged shots in a set that never saw either side lead by more than two. In fitting fashion, senior Matt Walsh capped off the comeback on Senior Night with a match-winning kill to secure third place in the MIVA Tournament for Ball State.
Overall, seniors Mitch Weiler and Matt Walsh shined in the crowd-pleasing match. Both finished with nine total blocks, while Weiler added nine kills, and Walsh tallied a team-high 14 of his own. Freshman Ben Chinnici finished the match one kill away from a double-double, totaling nine kills and 11 digs.
“It’s great when you’ve got seniors stepping up in that big moment,” Walton said. “In Mitch’s case, passing well and taking playing really good defense, taking some critical swings for us. In Walsh’s case, doing a yeoman’s job. He’s one of our best servers, and he put serving pressure on them all night long. Loved to see Walsh get that last kill.”
For Ohio State, Jake Hanes led the match with 19 kills, while Nicolas Szerszen and Maxime Hervoir were not far behind with 18 and 16, respectively.
Both teams built a solid wall as Ohio State finished with 11 total blocks, and Ball State reached 13.5 of its own.
Ball State will host McKendree in the first round of the MIVA Tournament on Saturday, April 14.