Strike three.

Strike three.

Strike three.

Just 14 pitches into the game, sophomore Drey Jameson punched out Indiana’s (28-13, 9-3 Big 10) first three batters. It was a favorable start for Ball State (25-15, 9-4 MAC), especially after giving up four runs in the first inning of the Cardinals’ 14-3 loss to the Hoosiers just a week prior.

Tuesday, despite ending in a 9-3 loss, was a bounce-back game for the Cardinals.

“For a fan watching the game, you have to enjoy that game,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “Both teams battling, both teams competing. It was a good game. It was disappointing we weren’t able to finish it off, but heck man, I’m proud of my guys.”

While a 9-3 final looks one-sided on the scoreboard, it doesn’t show just how close of a game it was.

The Cardinals had the lead through the first four innings. The Hoosiers tied it up in the fifth and had a one-run lead heading into the ninth. The top of the ninth was when Indiana’s bats caught fire as the Hoosiers brought 11 men to the plate and scored five.

“I thought we played an excellent game, I really did,” Maloney said. “The wheels came out from under us. We did everything we could do and put our best foot forward … One inning it just came from under us. It’s too bad because it was a great game.”

The game wasn’t just a team recovery, but an individual one by redshirt senior Brendan Burns as well. Burns started the game against Indiana April 16 and couldn’t get out of the first inning.

Tuesday Burns came in relief in the sixth inning and retired the first seven batters he faced. Of the eight Hoosiers to come to the plate against him, six were set down on strikes.

“That felt good for me because last week was a struggle,” Burns said. “Coach told me I had a chance of coming in tonight, so now I want revenge. I want these guys again because I know I can do better.”

The first eight innings felt like what Maloney described as a classic Ball State-Indiana matchup. The Cardinals haven’t beaten the Hoosiers in their last nine tries. However, their last four meetings resulted in a one-run game, and the last three ended on a walk-off hit in extra innings.

Junior Ross Messina is in his first year in a Ball State uniform, but he said he knows the recent history between the cardinal and crimson.

“We really want to get back on top against them,” Messina said. “They’re a great team, and we know there’s no margin for error against them. You miss one play, and they’ll score a couple runs. We come ready to play against these guys.”

Moving forward, Maloney said the team should have plenty of confidence despite a 2-3 record in its last five games. 

Two of the losses were against Indiana, who is currently ranked 23rd in the nation in the NCAA Division I poll. In that span, the Cardinals also became the first Mid-American Conference team to take a series from Miami (Ohio), who is atop the MAC standings.

“The last four games, we’ve played really solid,” Maloney said. “You can’t ask much more than what we did. I like where we’re at right now. I like the team we have, and I think we got a good chance to finish strong down the stretch.”

Ball State has four conference series remaining, three of them at home where the Cardinals have only lost once this year.

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