Ball State Baseball sweeps Northern Illinois in 'complete team effort'

<p>Senior outfielder Ross Messina celebrates with junior outfielder Nick Powell after Powell hit a home run April 3, 2021, at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. The Cardinals won their second game of the day 16-10 against the Bulldogs. <strong>Jaden Whiteman, DN</strong></p>

Senior outfielder Ross Messina celebrates with junior outfielder Nick Powell after Powell hit a home run April 3, 2021, at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. The Cardinals won their second game of the day 16-10 against the Bulldogs. Jaden Whiteman, DN

Freshman shortstop Adam Tellier singled to right field before junior second baseman Noah Navarro did exactly that.

Senior outfielder Ross Messina then singled to left field, scoring Tellier, before junior outfielder Nick Powell singled and sophomore infielder Ryan Peltier doubled.

3-0 Ball State through the Cardinals' first five batters of the game.

In Sunday's series finale, the Cardinals (25-11, 16-4) scored 11 runs on 12 hits for an 11-1 win, capping off a four-game series sweep of Northern Illinois (7-27, 6-14 MAC). Between his offense's contributions and that of his team's starting pitching, head coach Rich Maloney said the sweep was nothing but a complete team effort.

"We're not superstars in any position or anything," Maloney said. "We're just a team that grinds it out, and we've got some really good players. They believe in each other, and they just have grit — that's what they do."

In game one of Friday's doubleheader, a 3-1 Ball State win, senior pitcher John Baker made history. With his seventh strikeout of the afternoon — the 358th of his career — Baker became Ball State's all-time leader in career strikeouts, surpassing 2002 Ball State graduate Bryan Bullington.

The active Division I leader in career strikeouts, Baker struck out eight Northern Illinois batters in a 108-pitch complete game.

"Hats off to John for consistency — what a tremendous record to beat," Maloney said. "Think about all the Division I schools — John has more strikeouts than anybody who's playing baseball in college right now. That's a big, big statement."

Messina, who has been Baker's teammate since transferring from Seminole State College prior to the 2019 season, said the senior right-hander's record-breaking performance was a testament to his consistency.

Senior pitcher John Baker pitches during a game against Toledo March 26, 2021, at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. The Cardinals won 7-6 against the Rockets. Rylan Capper, DN

"We have so many great pitchers that come from here, and then, John just does his thing," Messina said. "He probably didn't even know he was going to get it that day. Honestly, I think he only cares about winning — he doesn't really care about the numbers — but that's a huge accomplishment."

In game two of the doubleheader, junior pitcher Chayce McDermott followed up Baker's excellence. He struck out 12 batters over six innings before sophomore pitcher Andre Orselli closed the door in the seventh inning for his fifth save of the season.

From an offensive standpoint, Tellier said, the Cardinals' pitching was key in guiding them to success this weekend.

"It was a complete team effort, but throughout the weekend, pitchers did great," Tellier said. "It's just really what you expect out of those guys."

On Saturday, the Cardinals were scheduled to play another doubleheader, but light rain pushed the second game to Sunday. However, Ball State made the most of its opportunities in game one, etching out a 6-5 win.

The Cardinals plated five runs in the bottom of the second inning, capped off by Messina's three-run home run. Freshman pitcher Ty Johnson earned the win, striking out six batters over four innings.

During Sunday's blowout win, Ball State scored its runs in bunches. Following the team's four-run first inning, six different Cardinal hitters plated seven runs in the fifth inning.

"I think everyone really contributed," Tellier said. "We had a decent amount of hits. I think it really came from the top of the lineup and kind of trickled on down throughout the day."

Maloney said his team's offense was vital in the series finale but also credited freshman pitcher Trennor O'Donnell. O'Donnell pitched six innings for his first-ever Ball State win, allowing just one earned run — a solo home run to Huskies' senior catcher Jake Dunham.

Sophomore infielder Ryan Peltier hits the ball March 20, 2021, at First Merchants Ballpark. The Cardinals won their second game of the day 3-2 against Western Michigan. Jaden Whiteman, DN

"He was able to hit a spot with all those pitches — he was able to throw them where we asked him to throw," Maloney said. "What a job he's done the last two weekends, and him pitching for us has given us a big lift. I'm so happy for him."

Messina echoed off of Maloney's sentiments.

"He gives himself a chance," Messina said. "He throws strikes, and he locates his fastball really well. As long as you do that, you have a chance to win, and he's been pitching amazing."

Up next for Ball State is a series against Bowling Green April 30-May 2 before facing Central Michigan May 7-9, who are tied with Ball State for first place in the Mid-American Conference. Maloney said the Cardinals took care of business on their home field this weekend, which he hopes will pay dividends moving forward.

"We got four — that's all we can do," Maloney said. "We can only play the best baseball we possibly can at the end of the day ... there's a lot of baseball to be played. So, every time you put the wind in there, it's a good one."

Contact Connor Smith with comments at cnsmith@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.



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