Ball State baseball trailed Western Michigan 4-2 when redshirt sophomore catcher Griffin Hulecki stepped up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth.
The Cardinals struggled in similar situations in their nine-game losing streak. Against Butler, they left the bases loaded three times. Against Indiana, they grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.
But Hulecki connected with the 1-0 pitch, driving it to right-center field for the go-ahead 3-RBI single and a 6-4 Ball State lead.
Ball State statistics (game one)
W — T.J. Baker (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
Western Michigan statistics (game one)
L — Kyle Mallwitz (4-1, 3.30 ERA)
Ball State statistics (game two)
W — BJ Butler (3-4, 2.65 ERA)
Western Michigan statistics (game two)
L — Jimmy Townsend-Chase (1-1, 4.70 ERA)
"It's a huge weight lifted off our shoulders because we've needing one of those hits in the past month, and finally—I was thankful enough that it was me," Hulecki said. "Coach [Rich Maloney] prepared us all week for that situation."
Ball State (13-18, 2-6 MAC) racked up a season-high 16 runs and 18 hits in the 16-5 win — its first since March 19.
"They've been dormant for a long, long time," head coach Rich Maloney said. "We felt like if you got a couple of them going — that's how hitting is, it's contagious sometimes."
It didn't take long to get the second win, either, as the Cardinals won the second half of Saturday's doubleheader 12-9.
Against the Broncos (13-13, 3-5 MAC), the Cardinals got the kind of breaks that Maloney said they weren't getting on the losing streak.
Junior right fielder Jeff Riedel, for example, gave Ball State an early 2-0 lead after narrowly escaping the tag on an RBI bunt single.
“The fact that they were both safe — it’s something we’ve been practicing but we haven’t had runners on to be able to implement some of that offense,” Maloney said.
In the bottom of the fourth, Riedel also hit an RBI double to centerfield when Western Michigan junior centerfielder Tanner Allison narrowly missed making the diving catch. During the losing streak, it seemed as if Ball State's opponents — especially Kent State — made every diving play.
"It was electric," Riedel said. "I mean those haven't been falling in for us the past two weeks, but today they did. The bench really erupted whenever it did. It was nice to finally get those inches going our way instead of going the other way."
Though Riedel was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple, he finished the doubleheader 4-7 with five runs and three RBIs.
The losing streak ended just two games short of tying Ball State's all-time record, set when the Cardinals lost 11 straight in 1995.
“The game’s so delicately balanced mentally, and we’ve been on the other side of it for three weeks," Maloney said.
In the second half of the doubleheader, Ball State's bats led the way again.
With no outs, runners on first and third and the score tied 3-3 in the fourth inning, Riedel came through with another RBI bunt single to put the Cardinals ahead 4-3.
Sophomore left fielder Roman Baisa then laid down a sacrifice bunt and senior third baseman Alex Maloney walked to load the bases for senior second baseman Sean Kennedy.
Kennedy already hit a home run in the first game and worked a 2-2 count before pulling a fastball over the left field fence.
The grand slam gave the Cardinals an 8-3 lead, but Kennedy said the little plays, like Riedel's bunts or Freed's slide in game one, are just as important.
"Four runs isn't going to win us a lot of games, so we've got to keep on adding on each and every inning," Kennedy said. "When those little things are falling for us, it's easier to add on and extend our lead."
Senior centerfielder Matt Eppers led off the top of the fifth with a home run of his own. Eppers went 8-10 in the doubleheader with a double, a home run, four runs and an RBI.
Riedel and Baisa followed with a pair of walks to bring up Alex Maloney with two on and no outs. Alex Maloney hit his second home run of the game, a three-run shot that may have hit a car parked beyond the fence in left-center field.
Ball State led 12-4 after the four-run fifth inning, and although Western Michigan added two in the sixth, two in the eighth and one in the ninth, the Cardinals held on for the win.
Alex Maloney finished the day 5-8 with three walks, two doubles, two home runs, six runs and seven RBIs.
Kennedy led the Cardinals with 8 RBIs, going 5-9 with two runs, a walk, a double and the two home runs.
Senior right-handed pitcher BJ Butler (3-4, 2.65 ERA) was credited with the win in game two after allowing six earned runs — tied for his career high — in 5.2 innings. Butler might have had a shorter leash had the Cardinals not been hitting as well, though.
"It's huge because whenever we don't hit and we get into a predicament, we have to bring in another pitcher," Hulecki said. "So we can save pitching whenever we hit. ... Now we're set up for tomorrow."
Ball State and Western Michigan play the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.