With a 2-1 series win over Bowling Green, Ball State Baseball has now won six of its seven Mid-American Conference (MAC) series this season. After every one of them, head coach Rich Maloney has used the same word to sum up how the Cardinals got it done.
Going into this three game series against the Falcons, Ball State was in a four-way tie for first place in the MAC. Although Kent State (31-12, 16-5 MAC) now sits atop the conference standings, the Cardinals are now in second place.
“The reality is we just got to keep winning the series’ and see where that takes us,” Maloney said.
The Cardinals and Falcons began their weekend with a doubleheader. Game one was all Bowling Green out of the gate, as the Falcons put up three runs in the first inning courtesy of a home run from sophomore center fielder Nathan Archer.
To go up 5-0, Bowling Green added two more runs in the bottom of the third off of freshman second baseman Sam Seidel’s long ball. Ball State went without a baserunner in the first four innings.
The Cardinals finally got on base in the top of the fifth as freshman first baseman Blake Bevis hit his second triple of the season. In the following at-bat, graduate student designated hitter Andrew Wilhite drove in Bevis with an RBI groundout.
Still down 5-1, Ball State turned the tide in the top of the sixth. Junior center fielder Nick Gregory started things off with an RBI single, and two at-bats later, graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier hit a grand slam to put the Cardinals up 6-5.
A three RBI double from senior second baseman Justin Conant was the final leg of Ball State’s eight-run sixth inning. The Falcons fought back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning, as Archer’s second home run of the game and senior left fielder Leighton Banjoff’s two-run blast shrunk the Cardinals lead to 9-8.
However, Bowling Green was held scoreless after the sixth inning, and one more insurance run courtesy of an RBI single from Conant secured the Cardinals victory at 10-8.
For Ball State, game two began similarly to game one, as through the first three innings neither squad was able to push across a run. Ultimately the Falcons struck first once again, as a pair of solo home runs from Archer and senior catcher Kyle Gurney put the home team up 2-0.
Senior shortstop Ryan Johnston hit a two-RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning to extend Bowling Green’s lead to 4-0. The Falcons starting pitcher, junior left hander Rigo Ramos, threw four and ⅔ innings of shutout baseball, allowing seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts.
In the top of the sixth, the Cardinals got on the board after Peltier’s RBI single. This effort was almost instantly negated as Bowling Green put up three more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning when senior first baseman Tyler Ross hit a sacrifice fly and senior third baseman Nathan Rose hit a two-RBI double.
With the Falcons up 7-1, Ball State needed a rally with two innings to go. These efforts started well as Wilhite blasted a solo home run and Conant hit an RBI single in the eighth inning to cut Bowling Green’s lead to four, but it was for naught as the Falcons triumphed 7-3.
Maloney said game two’s loss came down to Ball State not being able to get “the big hit,” as the Cardinals stranded 11 runners.
With the series on the line in game three, the Cardinals struck first with a five run second inning. Sophomore catcher Hunter Dobbins started things off with a two-RBI double and graduate student shortstop Adam Tellier capped the top of the second off with a three-run long ball.
It didn’t take long for the Falcons to respond, however, as the home team put up three runs in the bottom of the inning. Archer hit his third home run of the series to put the scoreboard at 5-1 and Johnston hit an RBI single that also scored Rose on an error.
As the score sat 5-3 in Ball State’s favor, innings three through six were quiet on both sides. It wasn’t until the seventh inning, when Peltier hit his 14th home run of the season, that either side scored. With the Cardinals up 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Falcons found themselves running out of time.
Seidel’s second home run of the weekend, a solo shot, brought Bowling Green within two, but the Cardinals secured victory in the end. Junior right handed pitcher Ty Johnson earned the win in relief, pitching five innings, allowing two hits, one run and no walks, and striking out nine.
In their final three series of the season, Ball State plays three of the top six teams in the MAC. Maloney didn’t understate the importance of coming out of Bowling Green with a series win.
“We had to have this game,” Maloney said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
The 29th-year head coach said he felt Ball State’s experience will benefit them down the stretch, as many Cardinals were on the 2022 MAC regular season championship squad and felt the heartbreak of losing in the MAC Championship Tournament final. With a few pitching injuries limiting the staff, Maloney said it will take a whole team effort to reach the NCAA Regionals in June.
“It’s gonna take everything we’ve got,” Maloney said. “We got to scratch and claw into some victories. Today, and this weekend, that’s what we did.”
The Cardinals (28-15, 14-6) stay on the road next weekend as they return to action against the Ohio Bobcats (16-23, 13-8 MAC) in a three-game series in Athens, Ohio. Game one is set for May 5 at 6 p.m. with the series scheduled to wrap up May 7.