Going into the 2023 season, expectations were high for Ball State Baseball. After winning the regular season Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship and losing in the MAC Championship Tournament Final in 2022, the Cardinals were projected to win the conference in 2023, according to the MAC Preseason Coaches Poll.
The Cardinals went into their first series of the season, a four-game set against Charlotte (3-4) Feb. 17-19, looking to back up the expectations they set for themselves. However, although Ball State beat the 49ers in game one, the Cardinals returned to Muncie, Indiana, 1-3.
Head coach Rich Maloney didn’t have much to say after Ball State lost three straight games and allowed 50 walks in four games, other than the Cardinals would wash the series away and start anew. In the Swig and Swine Classic Feb. 24-26, Ball State did just that, improving their record to 4-4 after winning 3-of-4 contests in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Our pitchers answered back in a lot of ways. They rebounded the way they're supposed to,” Maloney said. “We believe in our pitchers, and they really had a rough weekend last weekend, there was no argument, there's no denying it [and there’s] no way to hide from it. They answered back.”
In game one, Ball State defeated Merrimack (0-3) 9-0, snapping its three-game losing streak. In this contest, junior right handed pitcher Ty Johnson tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits, two walks and striking out a career-high ten batters, earning the win.
Graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier continued his hot start to the season, hitting his fourth home run in five games and ending the day 4-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk. Senior shortstop Adam Tellier had three RBIs for the Cardinals, and freshman first baseman Blake Bevis went 3-for-5 with his first collegiate home run.
In game two, Ball State defeated Rutgers (2-3) 5-4 in a matchup that saw the Cardinals come back from down 4-2 in the seventh inning. Maloney said this “gritty win” over the Scarlet Knights, who finished second in the B1GTEN Conference last season, and are projected to do the same this season, helped continue momentum Ball State built in game one.
Tellier hit his first home run of the season in the eighth inning to put the Cardinals over the top. Graduate student second baseman Justin Conant, senior pinch hitter CJ Horn and junior designated hitter Casey Turturici each had RBI hits.
Although junior right handed pitcher Trennor O’Donnell got the start for Ball State, junior relief pitcher Ryan Brown earned the win, pitching two innings of relief and allowing no hits, no runs, one walk and striking out five of seven batters faced. However, that wasn’t the last of Brown for the weekend.
Ball State grabbed an early 2-0 lead in game three, courtesy of a two run home run from senior catcher Matthew Rivera, but Bucknell (2-4) defeated the Cardinals in what Maloney likened to “stubbing your toe.” The Cardinals had four hits in their sole loss, with only one coming after the second inning.
Senior left-handed pitcher Chris DiFiore got the start and the win for the Bison, allowing four hits, two runs, two walks and striking out five, but it was Bucknell’s dual-threat relief effort that closed the door. Senior right-handed pitcher Theo Farynick and freshman right-handed pitcher Ryan Osinski combined to allow no hits, no walks, no runs and earned four strikeouts through three innings.
Junior right fielder Grant Voytovich and senior left fielder Jacob Terwilliger each had home runs to contribute towards the Bisons’ triumph.
“We kind of experienced the high of baseball in having a really good win [against Rutgers], and then the low of baseball of having a tough loss,” Maloney said.
In what was described as a “gut check game” by Maloney, the Cardinals bounced back to end the weekend on a high note as they defeated Canisius (1-2) 6-1 in a contest that saw Brown continue his dominant weekend with a masterful performance in relief. He earned his third win of the season after pitching four and ⅓ innings, and striking out 12 of the 13 batters he faced while not allowing a hit, a walk or a run.
Brown struck out 11 batters in a row, and while it’s unknown what the NCAA record is for most consecutive strikeouts, the Major League Baseball (MLB) record is 13, set by Randy Johnson. The Griffins only had two hits in the game, both coming in the top of the first inning.
On the weekend, Brown picked up two wins after pitching a combined six and ⅓ innings, allowing no hits, no runs, one walk and striking out 17 of the 20 batters he faced. Maloney said after Brown’s performance against Canisius, MLB scouts approached the head coach saying they’ve never seen anything like it.
“I've been coaching all these years, [and] I've had so many high draft pick pitchers. I've had the number one pick in the whole draft in Bryan Bullington (2002), and I've never seen as dominant [of] a performance as what Ryan Brown did,” Maloney said.
Bevis and senior center fielder Zach Lane each had RBI hits for Ball State. Peltier went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in this contest, meaning he finished the weekend 9-for-17 with four RBIs and a home run.
Brown said after the Cardinals left Charlotte “confused and unsatisfied” after losing 3-of-4 games, not only did the pitching staff have to leave that weekend behind them, but they also had to focus on getting ahead of the count and not shying away from contact in their bullpen sessions leading up to the Swig and Swine Classic. After dominant performances from those such as himself and Johnson, Brown felt the Cardinals’ successful showing was huge towards building momentum early in the season.
“I think everyone's just really excited to see what we could do this year, and I think it definitely boosts the team’s morale and shows what we're capable of,” Brown said. “We just want to make a [NCAA] Regional so I think it's a step in that direction.”
The Cardinals return to action Mar. 3-5 for a four-game series in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they first take on Cornell (0-2) at 10 a.m. in the first of two Mar. 3 games.