Baker responds, Messina homers to give Ball State Baseball win

<p>Ball State Cardinals take off their hats as the National Anthem plays at Victory Field April 23, 2019. The Cardinals lost to the Hoosiers. <strong>Rebecca Slezak,DN</strong></p>

Ball State Cardinals take off their hats as the National Anthem plays at Victory Field April 23, 2019. The Cardinals lost to the Hoosiers. Rebecca Slezak,DN

“Turn it.”

That’s what Ball State Baseball (27-15, 11-4 MAC) head coach Rich Maloney said went through his mind as Bowling Green’s (13-25, 6-11 MAC) Brad Croy hit a ground ball to shortstop with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth inning.

Freshman Justin Conant flipped the ball to senior Will Baker who fired it to senior John Ricotta for the game-ending double-play, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win as well as a series win. Maloney said the Falcons always present a good matchup no matter what the record says.

“You always know you’re in for a dogfight, and we will be tomorrow,” Maloney said. “We’re going to have to play well to try to win that game. You got to sweep some series if you want to be in first place. That’s just how it works.”

Junior John Baker towed the rubber Saturday for the Cardinals, and he had an uncharacteristic first three innings. He looked especially off his game in the second where he gave up a single to the leadoff batter and walked the next three, forcing in a run. 

“He had to grit it out because he didn’t have his stuff today at all,” Maloney said. “I haven’t seen him like that very often. Yet, at the end of six innings, guess how many runs they had. One … That’s the sign of a good pitcher.”

After giving up the run in the second, Baker threw four scoreless frames to finish his outing with only three hits and nine strikeouts. While he admitted it wasn’t his best day, Baker said how he responded to a shaky start was important.

“Just like every day, I got to go out there and compete with whatever I have. I still got to get outs whatever way possible,” Baker said. “Some days you have your best stuff, and some days you don’t. It was nice to have a pretty decent day without my best stuff.”

When the ball was taken out of Baker’s hands, the Falcons immediately tied it up, getting the leadoff man on and bringing him around to score. The game remained deadlocked until the bottom of the eighth.

Having already driven in a run in the first inning, junior Ross Messina stepped into the batter’s box to start the Cardinals’ half.

He saw two pitches. The first missed the strike zone for a ball. The second almost hit West McGalliard Road in left field.

“Right when I hit it, I knew it was gone,” Messina said. “It felt good off the bat, I got good extension on it and it flew. Didn’t need the wind today.”

Messina has now homered in back-to-back games against the Falcons and has recorded multiple hits in his last five contests.

More importantly, the home run gave the Cardinals the lead.

“That’s big time,” Messina said. “Just to give our team the lead was the main focus. I was trying to get on any way I could, and I got one pretty good.”

Ball State will be going for a sweep of Bowling Green Sunday at 1 p.m. at home.

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