That is one word that Ball State’s head baseball coach Rich Maloney has used when talking about the Cardinals.
Following today’s 7-6 win against No. 2 Central Michigan (33-21, 19-11 MAC), he used it once more.
“[The Cardinals] are a gritty bunch who believe in themselves,” Maloney said. “And they've been amazing because we've been short-handed for a long period of time.”
With the team going through some adversity this season, yesterday’s win made the Cardinals’ (34-21, 19-11 MAC) first Mid-American Tournament (MAC) victory more than just that. It was a big moment for multiple players and lifted the team's spirits.
The contest against the Chippewas started in the No. 3 Cardinals’ favor. The first two batters of the game, fifth-year Ryan Peltier and junior Decker Scheffler, both reached base with back-to-back singles.
One batter later and the Cardinals already led 3-0 as senior Adam Tellier launched a three-run home run. He finished the game with four RBIs.
“[Tellier’s home run] was into the wind,” Maloney said. “I didn't think anyone would hit a ball out of left field and he did it. It was amazing and it gave us a big lift.”
But Central Michigan didn’t let the early deficit last long. In the bottom of the third, they scored two runs.
Later in the game, Ball State would add two more runs after a two-RBI double from Scheffler. But once again, Central Michigan came right back and tied the game 5-5 in the bottom of the fifth.
This is when those “big moments” kicked in. Earlier in the season, one of the Cardinals’ strengths was their pitching group. But after multiple injuries, that group had to fight through the season. Just like they did in yesterday’s game.
Even though [Cardinals starting pitcher TY] Johnson gave up five runs, he’s played on a bum leg and [tonight] he gave us  pitches,” Maloney said. “He pitched his heart out and he gave us everything that he had. That's all you can ask and that was huge in the sense.”
Johnson’s 97 pitches are the second-highest number of pitches he’s thrown in a game this season. His highest this season is when he threw 105 pitches on February 24 in a 9-0 win against Merrimack (21-30, 14-16 NEC).
In the bottom of the eight, Johnson was relieved by junior Sam Klein. He went on to have a solid outing as he left the mound allowing one run and three hits. He also had three strikeouts.
But in the bottom of the ninth, Klein gave up back-to-back singles. After this, it was time for a new pitcher.
Enter Ryan Brown. He had not pitched in a game in six weeks due to an injury. But that didn’t matter as he went on to shut down Central Michigan with two strikeouts.
“I mean, think about our team if we had all these guys healthy [in the regular season], but we didn’t and it is what it is,” Maloney said. “Nevertheless, it was so much fun to watch these guys compete and Brownie [Brown]to come in there and do what he had done earlier in the year when he was full go. He's an amazing talent and he's calm, cool, and collected.”
With the win, the Cardinals will face No. 1 Kent State (40-14, 24-6 MAC) in their second game, with the first pitch being set for 6:00 p.m.
The Cardinals understand how big this game is. Last week was the final regular season series of the year. In that series, the Golden Flashes traveled to Muncie and swept Ball State, scoring 54 total runs. This put a bad taste in the Cardinals’ mouths.
“In our program, we've been fortunate to have so many incredible wins, but we're not used to being on the other side of the fence like that,” Maloney said. “They whipped us and that's all you can say and they earned the regular season championship flat out. It was really, really hard for all of us in the Ball State family… I mean they just beat the tar out of us.”
But to Maloney, with that loss comes hunger and excitement.
“We were embarrassed,” he said. “We're gonna come off fighting… They're [Kent State] a really good team and they kicked the tar out of us. But at the same token, we get another shot. We get another chance and we're excited for that opportunity. They want a championship and it's the night game and there won't be any seats available in that place. You got two really good teams and they're gonna battle it out.”
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZachCarter85.