After losing six straight contests, something Ball State Baseball hadn’t done in over five years, the Cardinals returned to Muncie for the first time since April 4 looking to reclaim their identity. Head coach Rich Maloney said as much after Ball State fell to Purdue April 18.
The Cardinals’ three-game series against Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponent Northern Illinois was their chance. 36 runs, 39 hits and three wins later, Ball State did just that.
“We needed that,” graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier said. “We just wanted to come out and attack and play our kind of baseball.”
Maloney and senior second baseman Justin Conant both described Ball State’s six game skid as a “funk” in West Lafayette, and the head coach said the Cardinals needed to experience winning to get out of that funk.
“We had to get back on the saddle,” Maloney said.
Andrew Wilhite, senior designated hitter (DH), said while the Cardinals never doubted their talent during their losing streak, they knew they were playing below what they were capable of.
“That’s just the beauty of baseball,” Wilhite said. “Just sticking with the process, sticking with having good, quality at-bats [and] just keeping the line moving. Not being selfish and just trying to do what's best for the team.”
Prior to game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns threw out the ceremonial first pitch to kick off the three-game series. Peltier wasted no time to begin game one as he hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals up in the first inning.
Other than junior right fielder Decker Scheffler’s sacrifice fly in the third inning, not much offensive production was made by either side from the second inning until the sixth.
From the first until the sixth inning, Ball State junior starting pitcher Trennor O’Donnell only allowed three hits and two walks, striking out three Huskies. Junior center fielder Eric Erato led off the sixth with a double for Northern Illinois, setting the table for an eventual sacrifice fly from junior catcher Collin Summerhill to put the Huskies back within two runs as the score sat 3-1.
The Cardinals responded quickly, however, as an RBI double from Wilhite and an RBI single from sophomore catcher Hunter Dobbins put Ball State in front 5-1 by the end of the seventh inning.
Although junior second baseman Jake Nelson hit a solo home run in the eighth inning to try and spark a rally for the Huskies, the Cardinals ultimately came out on top 5-2 after junior right handed pitcher Ty Johnson earned his first save of the season.
Johnson pitched one and ⅔ innings, only allowing one hit, no walks, no runs and striking out three. O’Donnell earned the win for Ball State, finishing with seven innings pitched, six hits, two walks, one run allowed and seven strikeouts.
The victory marked another accomplishment in Maloney’s 29-year head coaching career, his 600th triumph as a Cardinal.
While there were long periods of time without scoring in game one, there were only two innings in game two that neither side scored a run. Coming off their loss less than an hour before, the Huskies put up two runs in the top of the first inning as junior shortstop Andre Demetral hit a roundtripper that drove in Erato.
An RBI groundout from senior shortstop Adam Tellier in the bottom of the first cut Northern Illinois’ lead to one run, but Ball State quickly gained the lead after a six-run second inning. Freshman first baseman Blake Bevis started things off with a solo home run, followed by a two RBI single from Tellier. Peltier capped things off with a three-run home run, his second long ball of the day and ninth of the season.
After senior left fielder Logan Flood’s sacrifice fly in the third inning, the Cardinals held an 8-2 lead. Although the Huskies were held scoreless in the third, their four-run fourth inning put them back within two runs of Ball State.
The first run in the inning came via an RBI triple from Nelson, then another run crossed home when Demetral was walked. Finally, junior third baseman Aaron Harper brought home two Huskies with a single to center field.
The score sat 8-6 for six at-bats before Flood’s two RBI single in the bottom of the fourth extended the Cardinals’ lead to four.
In the fifth inning, junior center fielder Nick Gregory scored on a wild pitch and Wilhite hit a two-RBI single with the bases loaded. No runs were scored from either side in the sixth, but Wilhite hit another RBI single in the seventh to give Ball State a 14-6 lead heading into the eighth inning.
After being held scoreless in the fifth, sixth and seventh inning, Northern Illinois matched Ball State’s offensive attack in the second inning with six runs in the eighth. It didn’t start pretty, as Erato scored on a Summerhill walk, Demetral scored on a wild pitch and Harper scored after senior left fielder Malik Peters reached base on balls.
Finally, Harper drove in the first run via a hit for the Huskies since the fourth inning with a two-RBI single. Sophomore catcher Kaden Kosobucki’s RBI single ended the scoring spree for Northern Illinois, and while Ball State still held the lead, it had been cut to 14-12.
In the bottom of the eighth, Tellier provided what proved to be the final insurance Ball State needed with a two-run home run. The Huskies went down in order in the top of the ninth as the Cardinals secured their 16-12 win 28 combined runs and 27 combined hits later.
Ball State and Northern Illinois took the field for the third and final game of their weekend series on a cold and slightly windy Sunday afternoon, preceded by Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to continue their dominant weekend on offense.
In the bottom of the first, Scheffler drove in Tellier with an RBI single, and in the next at-bat Wilhite hit a towering two-run home run over the right field fence. Fast forward to the bottom of the second and Gregory not only drove in a run with a single and later scored on a wild pitch.
Heading into the third, Ball State was up 5-0. Harper continued his solid weekend with an RBI double to put the Huskies on the board. Bevis essentially erased that with an RBI double of his own in the bottom half of the inning.
In the fourth, sophomore third baseman Christian Seegers’ RBI single gave Northern Illinois its second run of the game. However, Peltier blasted his third home run in as many games, a three-run shot, in the bottom of the inning to put the Cardinals ahead 9-2.
Conant and Gregory hit back-to-back triples in the bottom of the fifth to continue Ball State’s attack, and home runs from Bevis and Peltier in the bottom of the sixth. With the Cardinals up 12-2, three outs in the seventh were all they needed to secure a victory via the 10-run rule.
At this point, the Huskies hadn’t scored since the top of the fourth. However, with the game on the line, Harper delivered with an RBI double down the right field line, Summerhill hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field and Peters served up an RBI single up the middle in three consecutive at-bats to keep Northern Illinois in the game as the score sat 12-5.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Gregory and Tellier were walked in back-to-back at-bats to set the stage for late game heroics from, of course, Ryan Peltier. He had already hit two home runs in the game and four on the weekend.
That didn’t stop him from delivering, as his high fly ball ricocheted off the scoreboard in left center field for his fifth home run in around 27 hours. The three-run shot put the Cardinals over the Huskies (7-30, 4-13 MAC) 15-5 in seven innings.
Peltier, who finished the weekend hitting 7-for-15 with five home runs, a triple and 12 RBI, said he’s able to consistently answer when his name is called by staying in the moment and using his teammates as motivation.
“We needed to come in here and take care of business,” Peltier said. “It's gonna get tougher [in] the next few weeks, so we really needed these three games [to be] big for us.”
Ball State (26-13, 13-5 MAC) returns to action in two days when it hosts Indiana University (30-11, 9-3 B1GTEN) at 3 p.m. April 25. This is the second meeting of the season between the Cardinals and Hoosiers, as Indiana triumphed 16-13 April 11 in Bloomington, Indiana.
The Cardinals are currently in a four-way tie for first place in the MAC, along with Kent State (27-12, 13-5 MAC), Central Michigan (26-13, 13-5) and Ohio (15-20, 13-5 MAC). With the Golden Flashes and Bobcats still on the Cardinals’ horizon, Maloney said conference wins are as important as ever.
“Every time that you can sweep a team is huge because there's a tough, tough schedule for all the teams,” Maloney said. “It's going to be a battle until the end.”