Ball State came into the new year ranked 39th on Collegiate Baseball’s 2020 Preseason NCAA Division I Baseball Poll. After three losses this past weekend, having been outscored 29-4 by Georgia Southern in their first game in nine months, the Cardinals may not rank quite as high when the next poll comes out.
Was it a weekend to forget? Yes.
Was it also a weekend to remember? Yes.
“It certainly wasn’t the weekend we had expected or hoped for, but at the same token, it’s part of the journey,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “We got work to do, but I believe in this team, and I think they’re going to do some great things. It’s one of those series we’ll learn from, and we’ll try to do a better job next weekend.”
Maloney said there were two main contributing factors to each loss: lack of hitting and one inning that got away from the team.
Through the entire series, the Cardinals could muster just 16 hits, only four of which were for extra bases. Senior right fielder Ross Messina had three of those 16 hits, and he said it won’t take long for the offense to break loose.
“I really think we can be an offensive juggernaut. I really do,” Messina said. “You just got to relax and swing it like you can. In intrasquads and live [at-bats], we’re hitting the ball really well, and that’s because we’re relaxed and comfortable. You got to get comfortable in the game when it really matters.”
On Friday, the game was scoreless until a wild pitch brought home a run for Georgia Southern in the fourth inning. Following three more scoreless innings, the Eagles put up five runs in the eighth to take a 6-0 lead that wound up being the final score.
In the first game of the doubleheader Saturday, the Cardinals held a 4-1 lead after six innings. The Eagles again worked their late-game magic, scoring six runs in the seventh and going on to win 7-4.
So, through the first two games of the season, Ball State was leading, tied or trailing by just one run for 13 of 18 innings.
“It was that close. One inning each game cost us,” Maloney said. “That being said, there were opportunities to win, and we didn’t get the job done.”
Game two Saturday, however, was a different story. The Cardinals went down in order in the top half of the first inning. About 40 minutes later, the Eagles finished the bottom half.
Georgia Southern sent 20 batters to the plate in the opening frame — the first nine without recording an out — and only five didn’t come around to score. Only one run was scored the rest of the way, and the Eagles took a 16-0 victory.
“When the other team has a big inning, it’s the offense’s job to get us back in the game. It’s kind of hard to do that when you give up 15 runs. It kind of takes the wind out of you,” Messina said. “Nothing comes easy. No matter what the score is, you got to have every single person playing as hard as they can.”
Maloney said those games are a part of baseball, and the only way to move on is to keep plugging away.
“I always tell the guys that in a 56-game regular season, you’re going to have eight games where you handily beat a team, and you’ll have eight games where you’re beaten handily. The other 40 tell the truth about whether you’re a championship team or not,” Maloney said. “Unfortunately, this weekend, we had one of those eight games you don’t like to have, but they happen. It’s all part of the process.”
The process continues Friday when Ball State travels to Texas for a three-game series with Houston Baptist.