Starting pitchers act as ‘separators,’ Ball State takes 3 weekend wins

<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

Senior catcher Chase Sebby and junior pitcher Kyle Nicolas did their best impressions of Jake Taylor and Ricky Vaughn from the movie “Major League” in Ball State’s (6-9, 0-0 MAC) second game Friday against Sacred Heart.

“He was just pounding the fastball and blowing it by kids,” Sebby said. “It was honestly really boring because I literally just put down fastball every single time, and he just pumped it right by kids, so I just kept calling it.”

Sebby said he called a fastball for about 100 of Nicolas’ pitches. As uneventful as it may have been for Sebby, he couldn’t complain with the results. In seven scoreless innings, Nicolas struck out 17 batters and only allowed one hit.

“It was great fun, that’s for sure. He was totally dominant,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “I’ve coached a lot of great players who’ve had great performances. I’ve had Pitchers of the Year, Players of the Year and all that. Seventeen strikeouts is the most I’ve ever experienced.”

That was just in seven innings of work. Maloney said he took Nicolas out because of his pitch count getting a bit too high. If he had left him in, there was a good chance he would have broken the school’s individual single-game strikeout record of 19 set by Randolph Noel in 1941.

Ironically, that game was the only one the Cardinals lost over the weekend. Sacred Heart scored one run in the ninth inning, and it was enough to take a 1-0 win on a day where Ball State seemed to have spent all its offense six hours earlier.

The Cardinals’ 10 runs and 14 hits against Yale in game one Friday were both season highs. Pair that with seven innings of two-run ball on the mound from senior John Baker, and you have what Maloney described as the team’s “most-complete performance of the year.”

Then-junior pitcher John Baker throws a ball during a drill at practice Jan. 29, 2019, at the Field Sports Building. Baker led the Cardinals with 15 starts in the 2018 season along with a 3.68 ERA. Zach Piatt, DN

Saturday’s contest with Richmond was similar to the later game Friday. Redshirt sophomore Chayce McDermott tossed six innings of no-hit baseball with 11 strikeouts. Again, Maloney took him out due to a high pitch count, and again, the opposing team scored in the ninth inning.

This time, however, that run tied the game at one, sending it into extra innings. Senior outfielder Ross Messina came through with a bases-loaded single in the 10th to send Cardinal fans home happy.

So, in the first three games of the weekend, Ball State’s starting pitchers combined for 35 strikeouts while only allowing two runs and eight hits.

“It’s rare to have three starters like that who are all prospects on the same team in the same rotation, especially at a mid-major,” Maloney said. “They did this weekend what we were hoping would separate them. They were separators this weekend.”

Sebby said it’s going to be important for Baker, Nicolas and McDermott to be at their best, especially when Mid-American Conference play comes around in late March.

“If we can get a lot out of our starters, then we can keep our bullpen fresh,” Sebby said. “Those are the three most-trusted guys on the whole staff, so if they’re out there the longest, that’s the best for us. It gives us the best chance to win.”

The Cardinals finished off the weekend with an 8-1 win over Longwood Sunday. With that, their month-long road trip down south came to a close. Ball State’s home opener is 3 p.m. Tuesday against Purdue Fort Wayne.

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

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