Ball State baseball dropped the second game of its Mid-American Conference-opening series against Kent State on Saturday.
But head coach Rich Maloney said the Cardinals (11-12, 0-2 MAC) played well in the 6-3 loss.
"We're close, but we're not quite there yet," Maloney said. "We had a couple opportunities, I like how the kids battled again. We're competing really hard [and] had better at-bats today."
Kent State (14-6, 2-0 MAC) loaded the bases in the top of the first, and with one out DalPorto hit a hard ground ball between senior third baseman Alex Maloney and senior shortstop Sean Kennedy.
Kennedy made a diving stop to knock the ball down and limit the Golden Flashes to one run. Kent State senior Dom Iero followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to give the Golden Flashes a 2-0 lead.
Ball State statistics
L — Kevin Marnon (2-4, 3.77 ERA)
Kent State statistics
W — Zach Willeman (4-2, 6.23 ERA)
S — Jared Skolnicki (1-1, 1 save, 4.50 ERA)
Redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Kevin Marnon, however, responded by striking out the side in the second inning. Marnon (2-4, 3.77 ERA) was credited with the loss after allowing three earned runs with six strikeouts in five innings.
"I thought I was all right," Marnon said. "There's still a few things I've to work on, obviously, and I'd still like to go deeper into games, but I gave the team a chance to win and that's my job as a starting pitcher."
Marnon and relievers Evan Marquardt (3.2 innings, 3 runs, 6 strikeouts, 0 walks) and Evan Korson (.1 innings, 0 runs, 1 strikeout) combined to strike out the Golden Flashes 13 times with just one walk.
Ball State added a pair of runs in the third and fourth innings to tie it up, 2-2. In bottom of the fifth, senior centerfielder Matt Eppers advanced from first to third when Kent State starting pitcher Zach Willeman (4-2, 6.23 ERA) threw the ball past first baseman Zach Schuler on a pickoff attempt.
Alex Maloney then knocked in Eppers with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field.
In the top of the sixth, Schuler led off with a single to right field against Marnon. Marquardt, a redshirt sophomore righty, took over for Marnon on the mound. He struck out three batters in the inning, but allowed three runs (two earned) in the inning to give Kent State a 5-3 lead.
Ball State had a chance in the bottom of the sixth when redshirt sophomore first baseman Zach Milam's led off with a walk. Junior second baseman Seth Freed hit a single through the right side in the next at-bat and Rich Maloney sent Milam to third.
Kent State redshirt senior Luke Burch, who sealed Ball State's 6-5 loss with a diving catch on Friday, scooped up the ball and rifled it to third. The throw easily beat Milam to the bag.
"I shouldn't have sent Zach, that guy threw him out," Rich Maloney said. "That was unfortunate. Most ground balls — when they go through the infield — you can go first to third on, but [Burch is] special. I thought there was even going to play, but that guy made it easy. So that was disappointing, but that's on me."
The Cardinals didn't score in the frame, and the Golden Flashes added an unearned run in the top of the ninth to make the score 6-3.
Ball State and Kent State finish the series at 1 pm. Sunday at Ball Diamond. Rich Maloney said freshman right-hander John Baker (2-0, 0.47 ERA) is scheduled to start.
"He's got to mix them up well because they're a good hitting team, no doubt about it," Rich Maloney said. "Hopefully they'll be hitting some balls at some guys more than they have been. Theirs seem to be finding holes, and sometimes when we hit them good they seem to be right at somebody."
The Cardinals were picked to win the MAC West in the Preseason Coaches' Poll, but are at the bottom of the standings with an 0-2 record. Marnon said it's important to finish the series with a win against the Golden Flashes, who were picked to win the MAC East.
"It's huge," Marnon said. "This definitely sets up the rest of the season. We don't want to fall — obviously we're down, we took two quick Ls, but we don't want to get behind three games, so tomorrow's going to be a big game."