Luck was not on the Cardinals’ side at the ninth-annual Earl Yestingsmeier Match Play in Dade City, Florida. Despite entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed, Ball State placed sixth out of eight teams at the invitational after splitting both its matches Monday, followed by a loss to fellow Mid-American Conference rival Bowling Green in the fifth-place match Tuesday.
With the invitational being an annual tradition for the Cardinals, head coach Mike Fleck said he was disappointed with his team’s performance after mixed results throughout the fall season. The Cardinals took a combined seven matches out of the 18 played throughout both days, with four of them Monday from redshirt junior Keegan Bronnenberg and sophomore Joey Ranieri.
“Our expectations were to come in and try to win, especially being the No. 1 seed,” Fleck said. “Match play is definitely unique from a standpoint of the best teams and the best players not necessarily winning. We weren’t smart enough — at times, we weren’t really tough enough.”
The Cardinals began Monday’s quarterfinal round by tying No. 8 DePaul 3-3. However, wins from Bronnenberg and Ranieri — shooting first and second at the top of the Cardinals’ order, respectively, weren’t enough to give the Cardinals a victory in round one.
Unlike last year’s first-round match between the two schools, DePaul had the edge in the quarterfinals based on margin of victory.
“It’s such a fine margin, especially in match play,” Fleck said. “For us to kind of win two matches, lose two matches and tie two matches in that format was certainly disappointing. Winning that first match is really important. Losing it in the fashion we did is pretty discouraging.”
Despite not advancing to semifinal play, Ball State continued to find success at the top of the order in Monday’s consolation round. Facing No. 5 Loyola-Chicago, the Cardinals saw wins from Bronnenberg, Ranieri and sophomore Yianni Kostorous. Similar to the quarterfinals, inconsistencies throughout the rest of the lineup gave Ball State a tie with the Ramblers.
This time around, the Cardinals edged out the Ramblers on margin of victory. This set up Ball State for a fifth-place match with No. 2 Bowling Green Tuesday, who defeated the Cardinals 4-2. Tuesday’s action was different from Monday’s in that the Cardinals saw victories from the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup: freshman Joey Wiseman and junior Jack Cunningham.
“[Tuesday], we were just awful on the green,” Fleck said. “We were just making too many mistakes. No disrespect to the teams we were playing, but we definitely did make them earn a lot of the winning holes we gave them, that’s for sure.”
No. 7 Drake took Tuesday’s championship match with a win over No. 4 Eastern Michigan. The Blue Demons continued to capitalize after Monday’s quarterfinal victory over the Cardinals, taking the third-place match over No. 3 Dayton.
Ball State will continue its spring season March 7-8 at the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate in Scottsdale, Arizona.