Ball State's infield meets during a mound visit in the top of the ninth inning March 16, 2018, against Dayton at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark. Despite Ball State's efforts, Dayton won the game, 4-3. Rebecca Slezak, DN
Maloney’s milestone, “outstanding” pitching, breakout hitting headline Ball State Baseball’s spring break
South Carolina and Florida are hot spots when spring break comes around. That’s exactly where members of Ball State Baseball were the last two weeks, but they weren’t vacationing. They were playing ball.
The Cardinals (8-8, 0-0 MAC) went 3-1 in the Swig and Swine Classic with Charleston Southern and Notre Dame then turned around and played five games in as many days to wrap up their trip. Here are the highlights.
Ball State won six of its nine games over spring break. The 6-4 victory over Georgetown March 8 was career win No. 800 for head coach Rich Maloney.
“It’s really a celebration as a team effort. It’s a celebration of the success of a lot of people and consistency,” Maloney said. “I’m very, very grateful and humbled by it.”
Maloney became the 27th active coach to reach the 800-win plateau. He is in his 14th season as Ball State’s head coach, and his 461 wins with the program make him the winningest baseball coach in school history. The remainder of his wins came during a 10-year stretch with Michigan.
Maloney has taken this achievement as an opportunity to thank everyone who has helped him along the way.
“It’s a nice time to reflect on the journey and the great players and the great assistants I’ve had the privilege of working with. I’ve worked at two great universities and had support from both,” Maloney said. “I’ve got so many former players and people that have reached out. It’s been overwhelming, actually.”
The Cardinals won two games following the milestone, giving Maloney 802 wins heading into their 2019 home opener Tuesday against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Ball State’s ace is back. Junior John Baker was sidelined for the first two weeks of the season with inflammation in his throwing arm. The team has eased him back into action, throwing him for one inning in a relief appearance and no more than four innings in each of his two starts.
“We’re just elated to have him back,” Maloney said. “Johnny’s our guy. He’s one of the keys. That’s why we’re taking it slow because he’s so important to our chance to be successful.”
Maloney said Baker could have pitched longer in both of his starts, but he wants to take it slow so the team can have him fully healthy for the Mid-American Conference season. In his limited playing time, Baker has not allowed an earned run in eight innings pitched and has struck out 10 batters.
“I’ve seen Johnny be Johnny. He’s pitching with pretty good command,” Maloney said. “At times, it’s been outstanding, just like the old Johnny. At times, it’s been not as sharp but still good, and that’s just going to take time.”
During Baker’s rehabilitation process, starting pitching has stepped up, especially in the Swig and Swine Classic. Redshirt freshman Chayce McDermott threw six scoreless innings in game one against Charleston Southern. Sophomore Drey Jameson allowed one run while striking out 11 in game two against Notre Dame. Junior Mike Pachmayer gave up no runs on two hits in six innings against the Irish the next day.
Maloney said getting Baker back to full throttle will provide more balance to the pitching rotation and give the team a better chance to do well in three-game series.
“As those innings get gobbled up by one of your best pitchers, that takes the pressure off the staff,” Maloney said. “For those guys to do so well was outstanding. It shows what we’re capable of, and now we’ve got to be able to repeat that performance.”
Not Messina Around
Junior Ross Messina started the season batting third for the Cardinals. Maloney said he was one of the team’s best hitters in the fall. Messina was moved to the bottom third of the lineup after recording a total of just three hits in the first eight games, which included a five-game hitless streak.
“Mechanically, he was off a little bit in the first two weekends,” Maloney said. “Probably trying to do too much — new environment, wanting to impress everybody.”
As soon as he took the field against Notre Dame March 2, Messina’s bat caught fire, and it hasn’t cooled off. In that game, he went 3 for 3 with two doubles and three RBIs.
Messina now has a trio of three-hit games and is on an eight-game hitting streak where he has raised his batting average nearly 200 points. He also had seven extra-base hits during that span.
“We’ve seen it enough in practice. It just hadn’t happened for him until this trip,” Maloney said. “He worked really hard on getting back to his hitting fundamentals. He had to settle in, but to his credit, he did. He had a great, great week.”
The Cardinals’ offense has also received a spark in the last week from freshman Mack Murphy and senior Will Baker.
Murphy was recently inserted into the starting lineup over the last five games. He had five hits and four RBIs in those contests. Will Baker batted .333 and added five runs scored in that same timeframe.