Coming off a walk-off win over Southern Indiana (8-20, 1-5 OVC) March 28, Ball State baseball had won nine straight games. Not only that, but heading into its series against Akron, the Cardinals had only lost one out of nine Mid-American Conference (MAC) games on the season.
Ball State’s offensive depth prevailed in the three-game set, as the Cardinals won the series, though not without a hiccup.
In game one, Ball State didn’t record a hit until the sixth inning, when senior center fielder Zach Lane led off the inning with a single. In the innings to follow, the Cardinals got three more hits, but ended the game with no runs, shutout for the first time of the season, and the first time since February 26, 2022.
Akron defeated Ball State 4-0, snapping the Cardinals’ nine-game win streak. Junior second baseman DJ Butler hit 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI.
“You're not gonna win them all,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “I mean, it's baseball. It’s hard to win [and] we had one nine in a row. Sooner or later, something's going to happen to you and you just don't win.”
While Maloney said high winds contributed to some of the Cardinals’ hitting woes, he didn’t want to discount junior left handed pitcher Sammy Tortorella, who went the distance for the Zips, allowing four hits, no walks and striking out 10 batters in the complete game shutout.
Although game two was scheduled for Saturday, the game was pushed back, creating a Sunday doubleheader to close out the weekend. The Cardinals’ bats turned around in the first game of the double feature, as the red and white collected double-digit hits and runs in their 11-6 victory. Although Ball State allowed six runs, it only came on four hits.
After Akron jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, senior designated hitter Logan Flood hit a two run home run to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead in the second. The Zips grabbed the lead right back in the innings to follow, leading 5-2 heading into the fourth inning. Two of Akron’s three runs in the third came via bases on balls.
Another lead change came in the top of the fifth inning when Ball State put together four runs to lead 7-5. Though Akron scored one more run in the bottom of the sixth to make the game 7-6, the Cardinals scored four runs in the final two innings to seal the 11-6 victory.
Junior right handed pitcher Sam Klein shut the door for Ball State, coming in relief in the sixth inning, finishing with three and ⅔ innings pitched, allowing one hit, no runs, one walk and striking out six, earning the save. Ball State graduate student left fielder Andrew Wilhite hit 3-for-5 with four RBI.
With a series win at stake in the third game of the series and the second of the doubleheader, Ball State stayed hot, putting up two runs in the first, four runs in the third, two runs in the fourth and one run in the ninth, en route to a 9-1 victory. Akron’s (12-15, 5-7 MAC) sole run came in the first inning, whereas afterward, the Cardinals’ (20-7, 10-2 MAC) pitching staff allowed a combined four hits, six walks, no runs and struck out nine.
Junior right fielder Decker Scheffler finished the contest 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBI, while sophomore catcher Hunter Dobbins also sent a ball over the fence, a two-run shot.
On the season, 17 different Cardinals have collected RBIs, with seven different players doing so this weekend.
“It's a lot of different characters, [and] when you have a lot of different characters that can do damage, it really gives you a chance to be good because not everybody's gonna hit all the time,” Maloney said. “It's just a matter of can you get enough hitting, just score enough runs, and then have a balance of pitching.”
Going into the season, Klein and junior right handed pitcher Ryan Brown were preseason All-American picks out of the bullpen, and with senior right handed pitcher Trennor O’Donnell as the ace of the Cardinals rotation, Ball State’s pitching staff was highly touted. Maloney said while those three, in particular, have lived up to expectations, the rest of the staff has been inconsistent.
Despite this, however, Maloney said the Cardinals’ hitting and defense behind those on the mound has often meant Ball State is able to emerge victorious. In fact, the Cardinals have won four of the five series’ they have competed in this season.
After winning the MAC regular season championship last season, and coming in second in 2021 and 2019, the 29th year head coach said Ball State values the importance of the regular season.
“They know how precious every game is,” Maloney said. “We basically are doing what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to try to make a run. We still got a long ways to go, but we're at least positioning ourselves to have a chance.”
The Cardinals return to action April 4 when they take on Bellarmine (8-20, 3-6 ASUN) at 3 p.m. at Ball Diamond at First Merchant's Ballpark Complex in Muncie, Ind.