It took 13 innings, but Ball State (17-9, 4-0 MAC) walked away from Friday’s contest with Kent State (10-14, 1-3 MAC) with a 9-8 win, bringing the Cardinals’ win streak to eight games.
“It was an epic battle between two gladiators,” head coach Rich Maloney said.
Ball State went into the ninth inning with a 5-1 lead. The Flashes mustered six runs on a pair of home runs to give them a 7-5 lead going into the bottom half of the inning. To make matters worse for the Cardinals, that six on the scoreboard was brighter than all the other frames, seemingly haunting them.
It didn’t look good for a Cardinal comeback either as the first two batters struck out.
Then junior Noah Powell walked. Then redshirt sophomore Tim Blankenberger came off the bench and hit an RBI double to left center. Then junior Aaron Simpson blooped an RBI single into center field.
All of a sudden, it was tied.
“You got to give [Kent State] a lot of credit,” Maloney said. “They fought and clawed in that last inning and found a way where it looked like they were going to win the game.
“To our guys’ credit, you give up a 5-1 lead and then you fight back to tie it up and send it into extras — It says a lot about our guys.”
Things got interesting again in the 12th. After a leadoff double, the Flashes scored on a throwing error to put them back on top.
The Cardinals got a man to second base before a strikeout and groundout made things look bleak once more. Then senior John Ricotta singled home the run.
It was tied again.
The 13th inning featured more on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension. After a scoreless top half, the Cardinals got the bases loaded with nobody out. Then Simpson popped out, and redshirt freshman Noah Navarro grounded into a fielder’s choice, bringing up junior Ross Messina.
The pitcher went into his windup for the first pitch.
“I didn’t really feel it in the moment — my adrenaline was going,” Messina said.
What he didn’t feel was the ball hitting him square in the back. Messina thrusted his fist in the air, threw his bat toward the dugout and ran to first base with his teammates rushing out to mob him.
“I saw it coming at me, and the only thing that went through my mind was, “Don’t move,” because we were trying to win any way we could,” Messina said. “Your natural reaction is to get out of the way, but in that moment … at that point, it’s just any way you can get the run in.”
Through the first eight innings, Cardinal sophomore Drey Jameson was the star of the show. He struck out a career-high 13 batters and only allowed two hits. He said knowing he was pitching against Kent State motivated him.
“It’s definitely a big rival,” Jameson said. “A guy has to step up against that kind of competition. It’s Kent State, and I was fired up. It’s definitely a different atmosphere with them coming in.”
Maloney said fans can expect more of the same competition for the rest of the series.
“All I know is we got one in the bag,” Maloney said. “I know it’s going to be a battle. You can believe the rest of the two games are going to be real battles. The good thing is we sleep well tonight with that victory.”
Game two will be played Saturday at 1 p.m.