2-run home run in 8th inning lifts Ball State baseball past Western Michigan in regular-season finale

<p>Ball State baseball player Colin Brockhouse begins to run after hitting the ball during the game against the University of Dayton on March 18 at the Baseball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex. <strong>Briana Hale, DN</strong></p>

Ball State baseball player Colin Brockhouse begins to run after hitting the ball during the game against the University of Dayton on March 18 at the Baseball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex. Briana Hale, DN

Redshirt freshman Tim Blankenberger faced one pitch against Western Michigan Saturday afternoon. He hit it out of the park.

With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Blankenberger stepped to the plate and sent the first pitch of his only at-bat over the left-field wall for a two-run shot — the first home run of his collegiate career.

"It's not about me, though," Blankenberger said. "Everybody else contributed, too. T.J. Baker really came out there, and all our other pitchers have been doing a great job all season. It's just about having fun for me, and that was a fun time."

Head coach Rich Maloney was proud of the way Blankenberger made the most of his opportunity.

"We've worked on this so long to be aggressive on a fast-ball strike, and it was his moment," Maloney said. "He finally did it, and he cracked it. Couldn't happen to a better guy. ... Man, I'm happy for him."

After falling behind 0-3 in the first inning of the rubber match and not recording a hit through the first four innings, the bats came alive for Ball State baseball, and the team poured on the runs in its last four innings at the plate in a 6-4 victory, securing the third seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

"We hit some balls pretty good; we just got them too high up in the air," said Maloney, whose team finished the day with 13 fly outs. "We felt that, in time, we would get them. The guys had good patience, and we were able to finally break through."

Sophomore Noah Powell started the scoring for Ball State (31-24, 17-10 MAC) with an RBI double to left-center field that scored junior William Baker. Junior Chase Sebby followed Powell's lead with a ground-rule double to score Powell and cut the Western Michigan (23-25, 12-13 MAC) lead to a run. Sebby got as far as third, but a grounder to second base ended the inning, resulting in one of Ball State's eight runners left on base.

Nick Floyd then completed his fifth scoreless inning in the top of the sixth, finishing his day allowing just two hits and striking out five batters on 79 pitches.

By then, the momentum had shifted in Ball State's favor. With nobody out and a full count, senior Colin Brockhouse sent a solo shot over the left-field wall, recording his 10th home run of the season and knotting the game at three apiece.

"Brockhouse had a great at-bat — a phenomenal at-bat," Maloney said. "He was patient. He's worked so hard on it, and to see him be patient and get that pitch hung there — and he smacked it right out — it was huge."

After a pair of walks and a single to center field, Western Michigan was able to regain the lead in the top of the seventh 4-3. With two outs and the bases loaded, right-handed pitcher T.J. Baker found himself in a jam, but he got out of the inning by forcing Logan Hudson to strikeout swinging.

A downpour of rain then led to a 56-minute delay in the action in the middle of the seventh.

Once play resumed, Brockhouse again answered when his number was called, tying the game with a sacrifice fly to left field and recording his second RBI of the day.

Western Michigan was unable to retake the lead in the top of the eighth, and it proved to be costly once Blankenberger came to the plate and gave Ball State its first lead of the day with his homer.

Baker proceeded to strikeout two batters looking in the top of the ninth. When a grounder from Western Michigan's Blake Dunn rolled into Baker's glove, an easy underhanded toss to first base ended the game, preventing the visitors from reaching the MAC Tournament, which takes the top six teams in the conference.

Baker moved his record to 4-0 on the mound after getting credited with the win. He pitched 2.2 innings, allowing one hit and striking out three on 38 pitches.

Ball State will play the first round of the double-elimination MAC Tournament against Eastern Michigan at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23 in Avon, Ohio. Ball State is 1-2 against Eastern Michigan this season.

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu or on Twitter @NateNada.


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