No. 1 seed Ball State Baseball (39-17, 32-7 MAC) freshman designated hitter Hunter Dobbins was in the batting cage behind the Cardinals dugout every chance he could during their first game of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Baseball Championship Tournament against No. 4 seed Ohio (29-23, 21-15 MAC).
No, he wasn’t out of the lineup, he was still in his usual clean up (fourth) spot in Ball State’s lineup as a designated hitter. That didn’t stop him from taking constant reps in the cage throughout the contest.
“I was struggling a little bit in the past series, I worked pretty hard this week to just see what I was doing wrong and I looked at my past swings and studied on, and saw, what I was doing wrong, went in the batting cage with coach and corrected it and it felt good today,” Dobbins said. “I was trying to hit balls up the middle and in the last at-bat I kind of told myself, ‘we gotta do something special here,’ so I tried.”
Dobbins was 2-4 heading into his final at-bat of the game when his wishful thinking paid off.
In Dobbins’ fifth at-bat of the game, in the bottom of the ninth inning with All-MAC Second Team fifth-year center fielder Amir Wright standing on second with two outs, as the game was tied 4-4, he hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Bobcats 6-4. His towering blast over the left field fence sent the Cardinal roster and staff into a frenzy.
This wasn’t Dobbins’ first walk-off hit of the season, as he hit a walk-off single to defeat Central Michigan (39-16, 30-7 MAC) May 1, cementing Ball State’s series sweep that saw them take over first in the conference. However, this was a moment Dobbins had been waiting for.
“The first one was cool, it was a hit, but this one was a home run and it was really cool,” Dobbins said. “I haven't hit a walk-off home run, since [I was] about 10 and it's exciting that we did it in a close game like this too.”
Originally, the game between the Cardinals and Bobcats was scheduled for 3 p.m. May 25. After an hour delay, the game began and Ball State started hot, not allowing Ohio to score in the top of inning one, and scoring quickly in the bottom of the first after back-to-back doubles from Wright and All-MAC First Team fifth-year first baseman Trenton Quartermaine (RBI) saw the Cardinals take a 1-0 lead.
However, with one out and Dobbins up to the plate, the game went into another delay, which turned into the game being postponed, scheduled for 10 a.m. May 26, 2:00 p.m. May 26 and finally 4 p.m. May 26. After almost 24 hours of waiting, Ball State and Ohio resumed play and the Cardinals kept rolling, adding another run in the first inning as well as another in the second.
From there, Ball State seemed to hit a wall, being held scoreless from the third inning until the eighth. Meanwhile, Ohio scored four runs in that time period, courtesy of two-run home runs from two seniors, left fielder Spencer Harbert and designated hitter Will Sturek.
In the bottom of the eighth, All-MAC First Team junior left fielder Zach Cole hit a ball into the outfield and sprinted around first base, losing his helmet while sliding into second for a double. Cole eventually used his speed to score via a controversial wild pitch that was unsuccessfully reviewed after the fact to see if the ball hit pinch hitting junior Zach Lane in the foot.
Going into the top of the ninth inning, the score was tied 4-4 as All-MAC First Team sophomore right handed pitcher and MAC leader in saves Sam Klein took the mound. With one out and a runner on second, freshman right fielder AJ Rausch hit a ball up the middle that seemingly looked certain to reach the outfield, in a hit that would potentially allow the Bobcats to take the lead.
Thanks to junior shortstop Adam Tellier’s diving play, it did not reach the outfield, nor did Rausch reach first base, as he was thrown out by Tellier. MAC Coach of the Year Ball State Baseball head coach Rich Maloney said the play changed the game and was the best he’s ever seen Tellier make.
All-MAC First Team senior third baseman Colin Kasperbauer was intentionally walked and stole second base, putting runners on second and third base with two outs in a tie game in the top of the ninth. Klein proceeded to strike out All-MAC Second Team senior catcher Mason Minzey, walk off the mound with emotion pouring out of him, end the inning and keep the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Dobbins’ walk-off two-run home run followed in the next half inning and the Cardinals successfully completed their comeback. Dobbins said Ball State picked up their energy after being down for a handful of innings due to their competitive spirit.
“We all hate to lose,” Dobbins said. “We're all competitors and we're not gonna go out with no energy. When they have energy, we gotta get up too, they can't just do it on us, you know?”
Maloney said the Cardinals stayed true to themselves in the effort they showed late in the game to secure victory.
“We just grinded it out,” Maloney said. This team grinds it out, that's what they do. They just grind it out, they believe in each other and they stay the course, and then we've been able to make plays this year at the right time.”
Maloney talked about years of things not going Ball State’s way in the MAC Baseball Championship Tournament, whether it be untimely injuries, rule changes or the tournament being canceled all together (due to COVID-19). He said while the status of the game was in disarray and confusion due to bad weather, he tossed and turned trying to decide whether to continue pitching MAC Pitcher of the Year and ALL-MAC First Team junior left handed pitcher Tyler Schwietzer as was originally planned (Schwietzer pitched the first inning of the game that was played May 25), until ultimately deciding to pitch All-MAC Second Team sophomore right handed pitcher Ty Johnson.
He said at the end of the day, “whatever happens, happens” and he is confident in the Cardinals no matter the situation.
“It's always been something,” Maloney said. “We've truly trained in our program about grit, it’s called dirtbag mentality. It's a staple in our program, [it’s] who we try to be and just toughness and we’ll play you wherever, whenever, you name the time we're ready to play and that's our mentality, and these guys have really bought in, to their credit. It's a great group of young men.”
Ball State is now scheduled to face Central Michigan May 27 at 12:30 p.m. in Muncie, Indiana, at Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Ballpark Complex. In their regular season series, also played at Ball State, the Cardinals swept the Chippewas in four games.
Schweitzer is set to start on the mound for the Cardinals in this contest, according to Maloney. The winner of this game advances to the MAC Baseball Championship Tournament Championship game scheduled for May 28 at 12:30.
For the full 2022 MAC Baseball Championship Tournament schedule and more information regarding said tournament, visit: https://getsomemaction.com/tournaments/?id=164&path=baseball