Two hours and 15 minutes. A 2-0, complete game, shutout win.
Five hours and 24 minutes. A 15-12, 14-inning marathon loss while using eight different arms.
Those were just some of the differences between Friday's series opener and Sunday's series finale for Ball State Baseball (9-8, 3-1 MAC), along with 13-1 and 3-2 seven-inning victories in Saturday's doubleheader. The Cardinals won three out of four games against Western Michigan (1-9, 1-3 MAC) in the team's first homestand in more than a year.
"Any time you win the series, it's a good thing," head coach Rich Maloney said. "We were able to accomplish that. Certainly, the way this last game ended, it's tough to swallow — that's for sure. Our kids battled all weekend long, and we had a series win."
In Friday's home — and Mid-American Conference — opener, senior right-handed pitcher John Baker struck out 10 in Ball State's first complete game in nearly three years. Baker allowed just four hits while the Cardinals scored both their runs in the fourth inning, good for the victory.
The Cardinals continued relying on their starting pitching in Saturday's doubleheader. In game one, which saw Ball State plate eight of its 13 runs in a sixth-inning rally, junior right-hander Chayce McDermott went five innings and struck out 11 batters.
In game two, senior left-hander Lukas Jaksich, originally scheduled to start Sunday's finale, also went the distance. He struck out 12 in a seven-inning complete game, the Cardinals' second in as many days.
Saturday's second game told a much different story from the first. The Cardinals scored one run in each of the final three innings to complete the walk-off victory. Junior first/third baseman Trenton Quartermaine capped it off with the game-winning hit, scoring sophomore outfielder Mack Murphy, who led the inning off with a pinch-hit single.
"The three starters in Friday and Saturday's games were just outstanding," Maloney said. "They really were. John Baker was splendid, Chayce McDermott grinded it out and Lukas Jaksich was outstanding... That's what you're going to need if you want a chance to compete for the top prize."
Junior outfielder Ross Messina, who batted 5-for-13 with a home run and four RBIs over the weekend, said the Cardinals' starting pitching was a catalyst in helping them find success.
"We just know, with those guys, that we're going to get a good performance and a good shot to win," Messina said. "We love having them on the mound."
However, the Broncos didn't go down without a fight in Sunday's finale. Ball State took a 6-0 lead through two innings before Western Michigan tied the game in the top of the third. One inning later, Broncos' freshman catcher Greg Budig drilled a solo shot to deep left field — his first of two home runs on the day.
Western Michigan then took an 11-6 lead at the seventh-inning stretch. But, the Cardinals responded by scoring five straight runs of their own the next three innings, sending the game to extras.
With starting pitcher and freshman right-hander Ty Johnson lasting just 2.1 innings before the Cardinals put their bullpen to work, Messina said the effectiveness of Ball State's starting pitching the previous two days tremendously paid off in Sunday's five-hour marathon.
"It really helped out," Messina said. "They saved so many innings for us, and [Sunday], we could throw a lot more guys."
Tied 12-12 heading into the 14th inning, Western Michigan ultimately found the edge off of a two-run shot from Broncos' freshman center fielder Will Morrison. Maloney credited Western Michigan's defense, especially Broncos' senior shortstop Drew Devine, in keeping the game close.
"Both teams had opportunities to win the game several times over," Maloney said. "We had our opportunities, they had their opportunities. We made some big pitches at times, but we just didn't make enough plays. They made more plays... that's just the reality."
When the Cardinals took the field at Ball Diamond this weekend, it was their first time doing just that since March 10, 2020, before COVID-19 concerns canceled the 2020 season. Messina said this played a major role in their success, and he couldn't have thought of a better place to be than Ball Diamond.
"We love playing here, especially when it's nice weather," Messina said. "It's just good to be back after getting canceled last season out of nowhere. We just love playing here."
Ball State will welcome Toledo to Muncie for another four-game, weekend series March 26-28.