One win away.
In a season that has been all about finishing the job and winning the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Baseball Championship Tournament, Ball State Baseball (40-17, 32-7 MAC) is one win away from reaching that goal. From making their first trip to NCAA Regionals since 2006.
In their second game of the tournament, the No. 1 seed Cardinals defeated the No. 2 seed Central Michigan Chippewas (39-17, 30-7 MAC) 9-7. Ball State previously swept Central Michigan in their four game regular season series that saw the Cardinals take first place in the MAC.
When the Cardinals and Chippewas square off, fans, players and coaches are more vocal than ever. Every call the umpires make is scrutinized by the opposing fans, players chirp back and forth, creating a different atmosphere than any when either team goes head-to-head with any other team.
It’s a rivalry game.
Junior left handed pitcher and MAC Pitcher of the Year Tyler Schwietzer took the mound for Ball State, allowing six hits, two runs, two walks and striking out nine through eight innings. Schweitzer said the dynamic between the Cardinals and Chippewas drives him and increases his competitive nature.
“100%,” Schweitzer said. “They’ve been our rivals for several years now and we've always been cut short and now that we're on the other end of the stick and where they have to beat us…It's just a whole new level and I think I was ready for it.”
Schweitzer threw 143 pitches, his highest mark at a collegiate level, and the game was over three hours long. He said although he prefers shorter games, so he has less time to rest in between innings, he stayed locked in during the long periods of time he was off the mound.
“Just pacing back and forth, staying within myself, thinking of what I want to do against the next hitters,” Schweitzer said. “Then when that third out comes, just try to pump myself up.”
While Schwietzer was in the game for the Cardinals, they scored nine runs to back him up. The game went back and forth early on, as Central Michigan had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of inning three.
From there, the Cardinals opened the floodgates, scoring seven runs between the third and fifth inning. In that time frame, junior shortstop Adam Tellier (2-4) hit a two RBI single, All-MAC First Team junior left fielder Zach Cole (1-4) hit a two RBI double and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Peltier (2-4) showed what he could do on the other side of the ball, hitting a two-run home run.
All-MAC First Team fifth-year first baseman Trenton Quartermaine (1-5) added a two RBI double as insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning and although Schweitzer was taken out of the game to start the ninth, Ball State had momentum to spare with only three outs until victory.
Central Michigan scored two quick runs in the bottom of the ninth off of junior right handed pitcher Mac Ayres and Ball State Baseball head coach Rich Maloney called All-MAC First Team sophomore right handed pitcher Sam Klein out of the bullpen. However, almost immediately, Klein gave up a three-run home run to center field, courtesy of senior second baseman Mario Camilletti to put the game at 9-7 with no outs.
Klein then battled back and struck out three of the next four batters (one was walked) to earn his 11th save of the season and send the Cardinals to the Championship Game. Klein said he wasn’t sure what everyone in the dugout was feeling while he was in the bullpen or on the mound in the ninth inning, he knew how the Cardinals felt after the game.
“Everyone was locked in, everyone had confidence,” Klein said. “No doubt in the dugout that we were gonna get it done, no doubt in the dugout that we're gonna get it done tomorrow.”
Klein said he can stay confident on the mound during tough situations, such as the one he experienced in this game, through confidence provided to him by Maloney and staying focused on the task at hand.
“Really just gotta block all that out,” Klein said. “I think I've gotten pretty good at that for this season, throw strikes [and] if you walk people, defense can't help you out. So get it in there and make them earn it if they want to score runs.”
Maloney has talked all weekend about the bad luck, or “karma” as he calls it, of the past that has prevented the Cardinals from breaking through and winning the MAC Championship Tournament during his time at Ball State.
“We haven't gotten any good karma in these tournaments, there’s been bad karma like that karma right there, you saw it almost slipped away, it almost happened,” Maloney said. “There was more karma [and I’m] saying, ‘no, not again, not this time,’ but they did it.
“Hats off to Sam Klein and the job that he's done to stay calm, cool and collected the way he does [is] amazing, and Schwietzer, he's the best in the league [and] he showed it again.”
For Schwietzer, this was likely his game on Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex in Muncie, Indiana. After winning MAC Pitcher of the Year and earning All-MAC First Team honors this season, MLB scouts have their eyes on Schwietzer for the MLB Draft, July 17-19.
The southpaw had one word to sum up all the emotions he was feeling following his (potential) final time toeing the rubber at Ball State.
Schweitzer said although he won’t be pitching for the rest of the tournament, his job as a teammate is to support them vocally while he can’t physically.
“[Be the] Loudest cheerleader and cheer them on,” Schweitzer said. “Keep the dugout as loud as it possibly can, stay behind our bats, whoever's pitching. You have their backs [through] whatever happens.”
For Maloney, this will be his sixth time reaching the MAC Baseball Championship Tournament Championship Game in his two stints at Ball State. He said a NCAA Regional berth would mean a lot to him, as he has spoken about throughout the 2022 season, but he can only do so much, as it’s his team that wins and loses games.
“They're the ones that win the games, I just try to help them along,” Maloney said. “I got a great team, great leadership within the team, they're hungry, they taste it and they want to finish it off. [They] gotta take care of business, we got our chance, someone's gonna have to beat [us] twice to take it.”
The Cardinals are set to face the winner of May 28’s 10:30 a.m. game between Central Michigan and Toledo (33-24, 23-16 MAC) in the Championship Game at approximately 2:30 p.m. May 28. at Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex in Muncie, Indiana. Since the MAC Baseball Championship Tournament is double elimination, if Ball State loses in May 28’s game, a final game to decide the champion will be played May 29 at noon.