Tough competition, Jameson, top of order headline Ball State Baseball’s start to season

<p>Members of Ball State Baseball break a huddle during practice Jan. 30, 2019, in the Field Sports Building. The Cardinals went 2-5 in their first two weekends of 2019. <strong>Zach Piatt, DN&nbsp;</strong></p>

Members of Ball State Baseball break a huddle during practice Jan. 30, 2019, in the Field Sports Building. The Cardinals went 2-5 in their first two weekends of 2019. Zach Piatt, DN 

It may not seem like it with temperatures in Muncie still dipping into the 20s, but Ball State’s spring break is here, and with spring comes baseball. The Cardinals already have seven games under their belt, and they’re making stops in South Carolina and Florida before coming back home after break. As their next game approaches, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

Let the record show

Ball State is 2-5 on the young 2019 season. While it’s not the most appealing record, head coach Rich Maloney said his team could just as easily be 4-3. The Cardinals fell 2-1 to No. 12 Stanford in the season opener despite recording three more hits in the game. They also suffered a one-run loss to CSU Bakersfield in a game they led heading into the ninth inning.

The Cardinals have also played a game against Grand Canyon and gone 1-2 in a series against Alabama. Maloney said he views these early-season opponents as confidence boosters rather than setbacks.

“If I were playing, I’d say, ‘Hey man, we can beat these guys.’ If you don’t play them, you’ll never know,” Maloney said. “I could play teams we know we could beat, and we could be sitting here with lots of pseudo confidence, or we can try to strap it on. When I recruited these guys, I told them, ‘You’re going to play great teams.’ If they just want to play a mediocre schedule and try to gather some wins, this probably isn’t the right place for you.”

Sophomore pitcher Drey Jameson said it’s good to know the team is capable of competing with high-caliber opponents and playing them is just another day at the diamond.

“There’s really not much difference from them to any other team,” Jameson said. “If you hit your spots, it’s going to be hard for anyone to hit. They put their pants and shoes on the same way I do.”

Jameson added that these will be the kinds of teams they will face later if they want to go far in the postseason, and they need to improve to win consistently.

Next man up

Junior pitcher John Baker, touted as the Cardinals’ ace entering the season, has been dealing with inflammation in his throwing arm during the opening weeks, forcing him to sit out. Jameson said the whole pitching staff has accepted the challenge of filling Baker’s shoes, and it will look “scary” when he gets healthy.

“Everyone stepped up their role knowing that it’s an opportunity to take a spot. I think everyone’s trying to take advantage of that,” Jameson said. “It’d be nice to have him back … He’s a true pitcher, and we love watching him throw. There’s nothing better than watching Johnny run out to the mound and shoving against the other team.”

No one has stepped up more in Baker’s absence than Jameson. The 2018 Mid-American Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year struck out nine and held Stanford hitless through six innings and fanned another nine in four innings against Alabama.

Jameson credits his success to his competitiveness and said he would throw 200 pitches to win a game if that’s what it took.

“I hate to lose, so I’m going to go out and give it everything I have,” Jameson said. “If I’m doing really well and we have a chance to win, I get mad when coach takes me out.”

Maloney said he was impressed by Jameson’s outings, and the fact that they were against top-tier programs made them more memorable.

“If we play a weaker schedule, maybe he has 25 strikeouts,” Maloney said. “He had 18, and you know what, all the scouts like the fact that he did it against the real deal. By playing the tougher teams, we just let him market himself.”

Maloney said he’s been encouraged by other pitchers as well including redshirt freshman Chayce McDermott, who is second on the team in strikeouts, and redshirt senior Brendan Burns, who hasn’t pitched in over a year due to Tommy John surgery.

Consistency at the top

Redshirt freshman Noah Navarro leads the Cardinals with a .346 batting average. Redshirt senior Griffin Hulecki is a close second at .333, and juniors Chase Sebby and Aaron Simpson aren’t too far behind that. After them, nobody is batting above .200. In the Cardinals’ last two games, these players have been the top four in the batting order.

“They have been the most consistent thus far, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t emerge,” Maloney said. “I don’t think we have enough experienced guys to say, ‘This guy’s a lock’ until you actually prove it.”

If Navarro keeps up his level of play, he could become a lock soon. He also leads the team in runs, hits, RBIs and on-base percentage. But even he said the lineup is “up in the air” every game.

 “Coach is trying to find out who’s the nine guys he’s going to throw out there every day — nine guys that are going to be there and be focused and ready to go,” Navarro said. “I feel like we got a lot of guys that could potentially take that spot.”

Navarro batted leadoff in the Cardinals’ first five games and was second behind Simpson the last two. He said the leadoff spot is where the team needs whoever is playing well at that time to be.

“There’s not one true guy that could be in the leadoff,” Navarro said. “Whoever’s feeling the best and looking the best that day is going to be in that leadoff spot because the leadoff guy is the one that gets everybody hot. He’s the table setter. If he’s going, everybody’s going. It’s a fire starter.”

Ball State will play Charleston Southern and Notre Dame in the Swig and Swine Classic in Charleston, South Carolina, starting Friday before heading to Florida to wrap up the spring break schedule.

Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.


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