Not reaching the top of the Mid-American Conference has followed Ball State Baseball since winning the 2014 MAC regular season title. The past three seasons, the Cardinals have experienced a second-place finish.
This season, though, Ball State senior first baseman Trenton Quartermaine said the Cardinals have something to prove.
“We watched the [NCAA tournament] selection show last year, and a lot of us took being left out personally,” Quartermaine said.
Like Quartermaine, senior outfielder Nick Powell said being left out “fueled the fire” for how Ball State approached last offseason. In 2021, Powell led the Cardinals with 65 hits.
“People are getting extra work in — they’re lifting more, showing up to the field earlier, getting more practice in outside of team practice,” Powell said.
Entering his 16th season as head coach of the Cardinals, Rich Maloney’s system remains the same. Having won four MAC regular season titles in his tenure, he said he believes the players’ buy-in and commitment will help the Cardinals reach success.
“I don’t know if we do anything different — we just have to keep competing and playing good baseball,” Maloney said. “When you’re used to winning, you find ways to win.”Last season, the Cardinals placed second in the MAC behind Central Michigan, compiling a 38-18 conference record. However, Ball State lost three starting pitchers in John Baker, Chayce McDermott and Lukas Jaksich, forcing them to go younger at the position.
“Position player-wise, we’re very veteran,” Maloney said. “Pitching-wise, we’re relatively inexperienced but talented. How quickly that talent emerges will decide how successful this team is — who’s going to step up and rise to the occasion?”After appearing in nine games last season, sophomore pitcher Trennor O’Donnell started the Cardinals’ first game against Bucknell Feb. 18. In the 8-7 win, O’Donnell pitched four innings and totaled four strikeouts while giving up five earned runs. This season, O’Donnell looks to take on a bigger role and follow in last year’s starting rotation's footsteps.
“[The] three guys leaving, they were my mentors,” O’Donnell said. “I was young and didn’t know much about getting my body ready and my mind ready in order to succeed at this level. I only started a couple games toward the end of the season last year, and I think ramping things up and getting my arm in shape will get me ready to be a starter.” Maloney emphasized leadership as vital to the Cardinals’ success, which he said has to come from both coaches and players.
“I feel like we have a good culture,” Maloney said. “The veterans take the newcomers to help them find their way and come together. Teams that win have leadership that doesn’t just come from the coach but comes from within.” Powell said the Cardinals spent more time together this offseason than in previous years, including eating together, hanging out outside of baseball and mentoring one another.
Over the offseason, 14 freshmen joined the Cardinals’ roster while 13 players graduated or transferred. Although they have gaps to fill, Maloney said, a good culture and strong foundation remain on the club.
“A good culture is [a] strong work ethic, a willingness to win, a high standard … it’s leadership from guys who have been here and have bought into the culture that now pass the baton,” Maloney said. “I think we have a strong nucleus which gives us a chance to have a great season.”
Maloney said he realizes one game does not determine how great a team is but the sum of the entire season and how they deal with adversity. For him, it comes down to the little things.“There’s times where you’re going to get smacked, and the good teams don’t let that derail them,” Maloney said. “These teams show the willingness to put a bunt down, to execute a hit and run, to execute a pitch out or maybe get a squeeze down.”
Ball State began its season playing four games in Charleston, South Carolina, Feb. 18-20 in the Swig and Swine Classic. The Cardinals split their four games, defeating Army and Bucknell while losing to Air Force and Iowa.
When it is all said and done, the end goal for the Cardinals is simple — finish the job and finish on top.
“We want the dogpile on our field, and I think this year is the year we turn second into first,” Quartermaine said.