March 10, Ball State Baseball played its first Mid-American Conference (MAC) game of the season after 13 straight non-conference contests. Every week since, the Cardinals have scheduled or played in a midweek non-conference contest to stay sharp.
Although MAC play is in full swing, Ball State was on a bye week from conference play April 6-8, so the Cardinals scheduled their final non-conference series of the season, a four game set against The Citadel. Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said non-conference games are about finding the toughest opponents possible to further prepare the Cardinals for conference play and tournament time.
“It's about the different situations that happen in games that allow you to grow,” Maloney said. “[Against] every team, no matter who you play, there'll be situations that are teachable moments. And you want to win in those teachable moments.”
Sure, the Cardinals practice multiple times a week, but Maloney said he aims for his biggest takeaway from every game Ball State plays, win or lose, to be things that are impossible to practice.
“We're trying, as coaches, to put the guys in as many situations time and time again of things that may occur, but there's just sometimes the game gives you something that you don’t see very often,” Maloney said. “The game won’t always give you something like that, but there's some things that are just so rare.”
In game one, graduate student right handed pitcher Ty Weatherly got the start for Ball State, with junior right handed pitcher Sam Swygert earning the nod for The Citadel. Each had similar days, with the Bulldogs’ starter giving up four hits, two runs, three walks and striking out six in five innings, while Weatherly surrendered two hits, one run, two walks and struck out five in ⅔ innings more work for the Cardinals.
Senior shortstop Adam Tellier and graduate student third baseman Ryan Peltier hit back-to-back RBI singles in the top of the third inning to put Ball State out in front, but an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth from senior catcher Travis Lott and another RBI single from senior left fielder Crosby Jones in the bottom of the sixth tied the game at 2-2.
Neither club could score by the end of the ninth and the contest moved to extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Peltier led off with a single, freshman pinch hitter Dylan Grego was hit by pitch, senior designated hitter Logan Flood reached base via balls and freshman first baseman Blake Bevis was walked with the bases loaded to give Ball State a 3-2 lead.
A spot normally reserved for junior right handed pitcher Sam Klein, freshman left handed pitcher Brady Owens entered the game in the bottom of the 10th to shut the door for the Cardinals. After allowing two hits, Owens held the Bulldogs at bay, securing Ball State its fourth straight victory and his first save of the season.
Rather than coming in for the save, Klein instead took over for Weatherly in the bottom of the sixth. He allowed four hits, one run, three walks and struck out three over the course of 3 ⅓ innings, earning his third win of the season.
Game two, or game one of Friday’s doubleheader, was another extra inning affair that ended in victory for Ball State. However, instead of a pitcher’s duel, this contest was a high scoring affair that saw 17 total combined runs scored.
Although there were no runs scored by either side in the first, innings 2-6 saw at least one club light up the scoreboard. Ball State started things off with a Bevis home run in the top of the second, but the Bulldogs responded with an RBI single from junior third baseman Travis Elliott and an RBI double from sophomore center fielder Wells Sykes to give The Citadel a 2-1 lead.
The Cardinals plated three runs in the top of the third, all courtesy of RBI doubles from Bevis, Flood and junior designated hitter Casey Turturici. Ball State held a brief 4-2 lead, but were held scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings, while the Bulldogs put up five runs off of two sacrifice flies from Lott and Elliott, an RBI single from junior shortstop Sawyer Reeves and a two RBI single from sophomore right fielder Thomas Rollauer.
Keeping up? The Citadel had a 7-4 lead in the top of the sixth inning of this seven inning contest.
Not for long, though, as Bevis got things going in the sixth inning with his second home run of the day to make it 7-5 Bulldogs. Tellier followed with an RBI double and the inning was capped off with an RBI single from junior right fielder Decker Scheffler to knot the game at 7-7.
Neither club scored in the seventh, sending game one of this doubleheader to extra innings, as each game is played in seven innings rather than nine in non-conference doubleheaders. Ball State scored two runs in the top of the eighth, though neither came via a hit, as Tellier hit an RBI fielder’s choice and Scheffler earned a sacrifice fly.
Although senior designated hitter Anthony Badala hit an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to put the Bulldogs within one run, sophomore right handed pitcher Logan Schulfer got out of the inning, securing a 9-8 victory for the Cardinals. In relief, Schulfer pitched one and ⅔ innings, allowing two hits, one run, no walks and striking out one.
“They never say die, and they play the game all the way through,” Maloney said. “The guys battled all weekend long.”
Going into game three of the weekend and game two of the doubleheader, Ball State was coming off two straight extra inning victories and five straight wins in total. The Citadel (15-16, 1-5 Southern) halted that momentum with a 4-0 victory in what ended up being the final game in South Carolina. The Cardinals had not lost a non-conference game since losing to No. 2 Wake Forest (26-4, 10-2 ACC) March 4.
Graduate student right handed pitcher Cameron Reeves went the distance for the Bulldogs, pitching a nearly flawless game in the process. Boosting his record to 6-1 on the season, Reeves allowed no walks, three hits and struck out eight batters in a seven-inning complete game shutout.
Peltier earned one of the three hits for the Cardinals in the contest, his team-leading 50th of the season. Finishing the weekend 6-for-11, the third baseman boosted his season batting average to .413.
The Citadel’s first run of the game came early, as senior first baseman Noah Mitchell hit an RBI single in the first inning. After going scoreless in innings two and three, the Bulldogs put up one run in innings 4-6, with an RBI bunt single from Sykes, an RBI double from Rollauer and an RBI via sacrifice bunt in the sixth.
Though junior right handed pitcher Ty Johnson was given the loss for Ball State, he only allowed two hits, one run and one walk with five strikeouts.
The series finale was scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. but was postponed due to inclement weather, giving Ball State the 2-1 series win, its fifth consecutive series victory. The Cardinals (23-8, 10-2 MAC) return to action April 11 at 6 p.m. against Indiana University (20-10, 5-2 B1GTEN) in Bloomington.