After starting the season losing 3-of-4 games to Charlotte (5-6), Ball State Baseball has won six of its last eight.
The dissatisfaction, as expressed by junior right handed pitcher Ryan Brown, that came with the Cardinals’ opening series against the 49ers drove them to a three-win weekend in the Swig and Swine Classic February 24-26, including a win over the projected No. 2 team in the B1GTEN, Rutgers (3-6). The Cardinals rode that momentum into another three-win weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. March 3-5.
However, head coach Rich Maloney is still not satisfied.
“We still have to improve at some things,” Maloney said. “We're going to continue to grow as a team and play better in some facets, but I'll give the guys this: we're finding ways to win, which is a tremendous positive. We're not playing our best baseball right now, but we are gritting it out.”
Maloney said the Cardinals (7-5) need to cut back on strikeouts, walks allowed and multiple “little things” that are holding Ball State back from playing at its highest level. While the Cardinals’ play may not have met Maloney’s lofty expectations for his program, Ball State left the weekend winners in all games but one.
In the first contest, the Cornell Big Red (0-5) got out to an early 2-0 lead. However, Ball State held Cornell scoreless after the second inning and took advantage, scoring five runs in that stretch to emerge victorious 5-2. While freshman first baseman Blake Bevis had a two RBI single, it was senior right handed pitcher Tanner Knapp who stood out for Ball State.
Knapp pitched six and ⅔ innings in relief, allowing no runs, one hit and two walks, while striking out eight. Sophomore right handed pitcher Jacob Hartlaub earned the win for the Cardinals after pitching a hitless and runless one and ⅓ innings with two strikeouts.
In game two, Ball State allowed only five hits to Purdue Fort Wayne in a 11-0 route. The Cardinals scored at least one run in innings two through seven.
Graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier hit 2-for-6 with two RBI, sophomore designated hitter Hunter Dobbins hit 1-for-4 with two RBI, junior right fielder Decker Scheffler hit 1-for-4 with a two-run home run and an additional RBI, and Bevis hit 1-for-4 with a home run and two RBI.
On the mound, junior right handed pitcher Ty Johnson earned the win, pitching five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out five.
In game three, the Cardinals took on the No. 3 team in the nation, Wake Forest (12-0). While the Demon Deacons got out to an early 2-0 lead, the Cardinals answered right back in the third inning when Peltier hit a two-run home run to tie the game at two.
Wake Forest scored three runs in the third inning to respond, two of which coming via a home run from redshirt junior second baseman Justin Johnson. Ball State scored two runs in the fourth, cutting the score to 5-4, however that was the end of the Cardinals’ offense in the contest.
The Demon Deacons added two more runs, defeating Ball State 7-4. Though the Cardinals scored four runs, they only had three hits. Maloney said the biggest reason for Ball State’s loss came down to strikeouts.
“I don’t care how good somebody is, you can’t punch out 16 times and think you’re gonna win,” Maloney said.
Senior right handed pitcher Trennor O’Donnell pitched five scoreless innings in relief, only allowing three hits and one walk while striking out three.
The Cardinals bounced back in game four, once again defeating Purdue Fort Wayne (2-10), this time in a high-scoring 13-9 affair. In the first inning, graduate student first baseman Braedon Blackford started the Mastodons off hot with a two-run home run.
Blackford hit another home run and collected three more RBI for Purdue Fort Wayne over the course of the next eight innings, but his efforts came up short in Ball State’s scoring barrage. The Cardinals scored in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth innings, amassing 13 hits in the game.
For Ball State, junior left fielder Casey Turturici hit 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, Scheffler hit 1-for-2 with two RBI, senior second baseman Justin Conant hit 1-for-5 with two RBI and Dobbins hit 1-for-5 with a two-run home run.
Ball State returns to action March 7 at Florida A&M (5-8) at 5 p.m. Maloney said this contest against the Rattlesnakes is an “outlier game”, as each side will be on just two or three days rest after playing multiple games over the weekend beforehand.
“You can lose the game and not have anything to do with your team being good or bad, it’s just simply numbers on the [pitching] staff,” Maloney said. “It'll give an opportunity for some guys to get out there to get some innings they maybe wouldn't have gotten. So in the big scheme of it, we're gonna do everything we can to try to pull this one off, but on the same token, someone's gonna have to rise up on the pitching side to help us out.”
Three days later, the Cardinals host Eastern Michigan (5-4) March 10-12 in a four-game series, the first Mid-American Conference (MAC) play of the season.
“That's part of the spring. So these are the growing pains that you have, [and] the good thing is we went 3-of-4 through the growing pains,” Maloney said. “But the reality is we gotta continue to grow. We're getting ready for MAC play next week, and there's no turning back there.”