“The pain of today can be the joy of tomorrow,” Ball State Baseball (40-18, 32-7 MAC) head coach Rich Maloney said.
In what could have been a game that sent the Cardinals to the NCAA Regionals with a victory, Ball State fell to Central Michigan (41-17, 30-7 MAC) 12-3. Instead, the Cardinals and Chippewas are scheduled to square off for the seventh time of the season Sunday, May 29 at noon in game seven of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Baseball Championship Tournament that will definitively decide a champion.
The Cardinals had defeated the Chippewas in seven straight games, five games in the 2022 season, before this loss. In said 12-3 loss, Ball State recorded more hits than Central Michigan (nine-to-six), but it was walks and errors in the field that led to the Cardinals demise. Ball State recorded six errors and gave up nine walks in the contest, as compared to Central Michigan’s one error and two walks.
The Cardinals were the first to score in the game as All-MAC First Team junior left fielder Zach Cole (1-3) hit a solo home run to center field in the bottom of the second to take a 1-0 lead and Cardinal fans at Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex (the largest crowd of the season) were energized. However, from there, Ball State didn’t score until the seventh inning while the Chippewas scored 11 runs in that period.
The starting pitcher for Central Michigan was junior left handed pitcher Garrett Navarra, who pitched six innings, allowing five hits, one run, one walk and striking out nine Ball State batters.
All-MAC First Team fifth-year first baseman Trenton Quartermaine (2-4) hit a RBI single after All-MAC Second Team fifth-year center fielder Amir Wright’s (0-5) RBI groundout, each in the seventh inning, but it was too little, too late for Ball State. The Cardinals failed to add more runs in the two innings that followed and the game was over, a 12-3 Central Michigan victory.
Of the Chippewas 12 runs scored, only six were recorded as earned runs. Central Michigan scored on groundouts, throwing errors, wild pitches, walks, sacrifice flies and bunt singles, however, sophomore catcher Nick Dardas (1-4) hit a towering solo home run to left field in the top of the fifth inning.
Although Maloney was disappointed and felt he disappointed Cardinal fans, he was optimistic about May 29’s game, saying Ball State hasn’t had many games they’ve played poorly all year and losses such as this are a part of the sport.
“It's baseball,” Maloney said. “This is an amazing group of guys. They’re the MAC [Regular Season] Champions [and you] can't take that away from them, and now tomorrow, we just got to fight back. Yeah, we didn't play as well as we would’ve liked, that's for sure, and we set it back a bit today, but tomorrow's a new day. We got a new opportunity.”
During Ball State’s huddle after the game, Maloney said he reminded the Cardinals of their identity, that they’re MAC Regular Season Champions. He said he will pitch junior right handed pitcher Trennor O’Donnell in May 29’s game and he feels the Championship Game will be more competitive.
“We have to do it one more time,” Maloney said. “[The] Guys will come ready to play, we'll play better, I'm sure of that, and like I said, it's for all the marbles tomorrow. I just told them, ‘you gotta flush this and get ready to go,’ and I'm so proud of these guys. I really am. I know this game was a disappointment, but the truth of the matter is, it's a mulligan.”
As a reminder, the final game of the 2022 MAC Baseball Championship Tournament is scheduled for Sunday, May 29 at noon, where the Cardinals and Chippewas will go head-to-head one more time in a contest that will decide a MAC Champion. Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex in Muncie, Indiana, plays host to this contest.