It was the bottom of the 13th inning. Four and a half hours had passed since the 1 p.m. start time.
Both Ball State and Toledo were on its fourth pitcher of the contest, and there was still another game left to be played. Cardinals and Rockets fans and players alike were shouting words of encouragement in support of their squad, while no runs had been scored since the bottom of the ninth.
Senior designated hitter Matthew Rivera stood in the batter’s box for the seventh time of the game, telling himself it wasn’t cold despite the 35 degree temperature and a wind making it feel below freezing.
On the first pitch, with two runners on base, Rivera sent a baseball into the trees beyond the right center field fence at Ball Diamond at First Merchant’s Complex to give Ball State the 19-16 win.
“It was bliss. It was kind of euphoric, in a sense,” Rivera said. “There's no other feeling than getting your team the win in that long of a game and that intense of a game. Both teams were chipping back and forth, we rallied several times to come back, and it was a great team effort. Just to give my team that lift and bring it home and get us the win felt amazing.”
While this was Rivera’s second home run of the game, finishing 3-for-7 with six RBI, this one was much more notable. Celebrating his roundtripper with a bat flip and some words toward the Toledo dugout, Rivera was ejected after the game, ruling him out for the second contest of the day and potentially more to come.
That’s what Mid-American Conference (MAC) play is all about. The Cardinals and Rockets met in a three-game series over March 17 and 19, and throughout it all, especially game two, tensions ran high.
“It gets our team fired up, [and] I know it gets the other team fired up,” Rivera said. “Everyone's into the game for all nine innings and it really helps just having momentum. [When] someone makes a great play and brings it back onto the bench, the whole bench is fired up and it gives confidence to the hitters and confidence to the pitchers.”
Junior right handed pitcher Sam Klein pitched the final four innings of the 13-inning marathon for Ball State, allowing one hit, no runs, one walk and striking out five. He earned the win in his first appearance of the season.
The preseason All-American said he didn’t hear the back and forth between Toledo and Ball State, and that he was locked in to his game. Klein is the Cardinals’ closer, and is often asked to slam the door in the ninth inning to secure victory.
In this instance, he was asked to go three extra innings.
“When you go in a tie game in the ninth like that, you know that it's your game, and that it's going to you until the end,” Klein said. “You go in there hoping that your guys are going to score quickly and it's over, but you know you're the one that's going to finish it and it's live or die with you.”
In game two, scoring started early and continued often throughout. Toledo sophomore right fielder Garrett Pike hit 3-for-8 with a home run and four RBI, sophomore designated hitter Owen Jackson finished 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBI, senior first baseman Mason Sykes hit 2-for-4 with a home run and sophomore second baseman Brian Fry hit 2-for-7 with a home run and two RBI. Junior shortstop Jeron Williams and senior third baseman Daunte DeCello each finished with three hits and two RBI as well.
Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth, freshman first baseman Blake Bevis had a 12 pitch at-bat that resulted in a two RBI double. Later that inning, with two outs and the bases loaded, senior left fielder Andrew Wilhite hit a high fly ball in the infield that dropped, scoring two and tying the game at 16.
Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said Ball Diamond plays similar to the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field as it pertains to weather. Oftentimes, the sun, wind and other elements make it difficult for fly balls in the infield or outfield to be properly judged and caught.
Maloney said he believes the Cardinals practice fly ball communication more than any team in the country.
“Fortunately for us, we took advantage of when those plays weren't made, and then we ended up fighting, we were gritty,” Maloney said. “We stayed the course, and we give our kids a lot of credit.”
Wilhite finished with four RBI, Bevis finished with two RBI, and sophomore catcher Hunter Dobbins and junior right fielder Decker Scheffler each had a home run with two RBI.
The length of game two put game three in jeopardy, as daylight was running out. Maloney said when he and Toledo head coach Rob Reinstetle met to decide whether the game would be played or not, Maloney told Reinstetle the game would not go a full nine innings, yet the Rockets’ skipper insisted they play until the game was called by the umpires. The Cardinals defeated the Rockets 7-4 in five and ⅓ innings, when the game was called around 7:50 p.m. Per the NCAA, games are official after five innings.
Senior shortstop Adam Tellier hit 2-for-3 with an RBI triple, graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier hit 1-for-3 with a two RBI double, Bevis hit 2-for-3 with an RBI and two doubles, and senior second baseman Justin Conant hit 2-for-2 with an RBI.
Sophomore catcher Brayden White hit 3-for-3 with a RBI and two doubles for Toledo.
March 17, in the first game of the series, Ball State defeated Toledo 14-2 in a game that may have seen a slow offensive start, but a 12-run seventh inning for the Cardinals put them over the top.
“We put a power surge on, and it was rocket after rocket after rocket,” Maloney said.
Wilhite, Dobbins, Bevis and Conant each had home runs in the seventh, amassing eight of the 12 runs scored. Williams hit a two-run home run in the third inning for the Rockets only scoring effort.
Senior right handed pitcher Trennor O’Donnell earned the win for the Cardinals in what Maloney called an “outstanding” performance. He exited after seven and ⅓ innings, allowing six hits, two runs, two walks and striking out a career high 13 batters on 117 pitches.
Senior center fielder Zach Lane, Tellier, Peltier, Rivera, Scheffler, Bevis and Wilhite each had two hits. Dobbins and Bevis each had three RBIs, while Peltier and Conant had two.
“It's huge. It's good to see the bats come alive and it was impressive,” Maloney said. “So I really thought that was the story. We hit the baseball.”
Rivera said the Cardinals’ 40 runs in three games should send a message to the rest of the MAC.
“We're going to come ready to play, and it doesn't matter how long it takes, but we're going to get the job done,” Rivera said.
The Cardinals return to action March 22 against Butler (2-15) at 3 p.m. in Muncie, Indiana.
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KyleSmedley_.
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