Nicolas, freshmen step up to give Ball State Baseball sweep of Bowling Green

<p>Then-sophomore Kyle Nicolas pitches at Victory Field in Indianapolis April 23, 2019. The Cardinals lost 9-3. <strong>Rebecca Slezak, DN</strong></p>

Then-sophomore Kyle Nicolas pitches at Victory Field in Indianapolis April 23, 2019. The Cardinals lost 9-3. Rebecca Slezak, DN

Coming into the series finale Sunday between Ball State (28-15, 12-4 MAC) and Bowling Green (13-26, 6-12 MAC), all signs pointed toward a high-scoring, back-and-forth game.

The Cardinals’ regular Sunday starter, redshirt freshman Chayce McDermott, wasn’t available to pitch, so they went with their sophomore Kyle Nicolas, whose ERA was just below 6.00. On the other side, the Falcons’ starter had an ERA above 8.00. And as always, you can never predict what the wind will do in Muncie.

By the end of the game, there were a total of three runs and eight hits as the Cardinals completed the sweep with a game-three score of 2-1.

“They were all competitive games,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “We pitched extremely well, we got some timely hits and a lot of different guys contributed. You couldn’t really ask for much more, but man they were all battles.”

Nicolas made just his second start of the year. His first was in the team’s second game of the year Feb. 16 against Grand Canyon. Since then, he has acted as the Cardinals’ closer.

He looked like a starter Sunday, only allowing three hits and striking out a career-high 11 in seven innings. Nicolas said he felt like he needed to perform like he did because of how well Chase Antle was throwing for Bowling Green. He punched out 10 batters in six innings.

“Their pitcher was doing a good job, so I felt like I had to match him just to keep the team in the game to give us a chance to win,” Nicolas said. “I felt good, so they kept riding me.”

The Cardinals didn’t record their first hit until the fifth inning, and the game stayed scoreless through the sixth.

After redshirt senior Griffin Hulecki walked to lead off the bottom of the seventh, Antle was taken out of the game. It looked like the switch was going to pay off as David Stopp got the next two men out.

Then freshman Ryan Peltier hit the gap in left center to bring home the first run of the day. Freshman Justin Conant subsequently drove in Peltier with a single to right, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Maloney said it was encouraging to see his younger players step up.

“You have two freshmen that got the two big hits, and neither one of them when you started at the beginning of the year were in the lineup,” Maloney said. “That says a lot about our team.

“You lose your starting shortstop, you lose your second baseman, so now we move Will [Baker] from third to second. We put two freshmen in the left side of the infield, and they do a great job. Then they get big hits. How great is that? We’ve had so many games where so many different people contributed. That’s what it takes to win.”

This series was Hulecki’s first home series of the year as he was injured while pitching against Kansas in early March. He said it felt good to get back in front of the home crowd and be able to start a rally.

“Definitely a team effort today. Their pitcher had a heck of a game, and he had all of our numbers,” Hulecki said. “It felt good to get that first walk, but then it was in the hands of the other guys to finish it out. I’m proud of Pelt and Conant, so good for them. I’m happy for them.”

The sweep puts Ball State in first place in the Mid-American Conference with just three weeks to go. Up next for the Cardinals is Northern Illinois on the road Friday.

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

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