For the second time in as many Sundays, the Cardinals found themselves tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. With Rockets' sophomore pitcher Cal McAninch already having retired senior right fielder Ross Messina and junior left fielder Nick Powell, Ball State was just one out away from its second consecutive extra-innings matchup to end a weekend series.
However, with the wind persistently howling — a stark contrast from the 70-degree, sunny weather the day prior — junior second baseman Noah Navarro nailed a solo walk-off home run on an 0-1 count.
The handful of fans in attendance at Ball Diamond erupted with pride and joy. Ball State (12-9, 6-2 MAC) had defeated Toledo (4-17, 2-6 MAC) 8-7, and for the second straight weekend, took three out of four games at home.
"The series was a battle all weekend long," head coach Rich Maloney said. "After we lost yesterday's [second] game, this was big for us to win the series. We had a lead, they took the lead, and we answered right back ... Noah Navarro's home run was through the wind. Hats off to Noah. When the team needed it, it was huge."
The home run was Navarro's first since March 29, 2019 — nearly two years to the date. While he said he thought it was a great way to end the series, he credited his teammates for their efforts all weekend long.
“Especially with the weather, how it’s been so back-and-forth and everything," Navarro said, "seeing everybody contribute and seeing the next man up is what’s really gotten us to where we’re able to be.”
Ball State started the series off on a high note, defeating Toledo 7-6 in Friday's series opener. In a back-and-forth game, Navarro drove in two RBIs — including the game-winner — while sophomore pitcher Andre Orselli closed the door and struck out three batters in the final 1.2 innings.
"Everybody’s your brother," Navarro said, "everybody’s rooting for one another, and I feel like when someone’s not doing well, we have to focus especially hard. We have to do our part in order to pick them up and carry our role. I feel like we’ve done a great job of that.”
In game one of Saturday's seven-inning doubleheader, junior pitcher Chayce McDermott struck out 13 Toledo batters — including nine straight at one point — en route to a seven-inning complete game and a 7-1 Ball State victory. In game two, senior pitcher Lukas Jaksich built off of McDermott's excellence, recording 11 strikeouts in the game's first 5.2 innings.
The Rockets, though, broke through with a three-spot in the fifth inning, ultimately taking game two 6-3.
“McDermott was simply outstanding, and I thought Luke was phenomenal for five innings," Maloney said. "We made an error, and we kind of made one or two bad pitches, which was unfortunate, because we weren’t scoring runs in that particular game.”
While Navarro's walk-off home run sealed the deal in Sunday's series finale, sophomore infielder Ryan Peltier was a major source of offense, batting 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Junior right-hander Tyler Ruetschle earned the start and went 5.1 innings before Orselli, Tyler Schweitzer and Ty Johnson completed duties in relief.
Maloney was especially impressed with Schweitzer, who pitched 2.1 innings. Taking over for Orselli, Schweitzer issued an intentional walk to Toledo first baseman Chris Meyers before he fanned the next batter, sophomore infielder/outfielder Mason Sykes, ending the top of the sixth inning. Maloney said Schweitzer's first out of six strikeouts was a game-changer.
“For Schweitzer to strike out the next guy, that was huge," Maloney said. "[Toledo] could’ve erupted, and that would’ve been the end of the game. Thankfully, he made the pitches when he had to with that particular batter, and again, we guarded our house and won a series."
The Cardinals will return to action April 1-3 against Butler (5-6, 0-0 Big East) for their final non-conference series of 2021. Maloney is pleased with how Ball State is faring in Mid-American Conference play, but he said there are plenty of areas for improvement.
“Any time you play .750 baseball, you’re feeling good," Maloney said. "The thing for me is, we’ve just got to play better. We’re capable of playing better than we’re playing. We’ve got to have better at-bats, we’ve got to make some better pitches [and] we’ve got to make some plays at times. We're doing enough, but I just think we can play better than [how] we’re playing.”
Contact Connor Smith with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.