Ball State baseball needed a sweep of three games to take the Mid-American Conference regular season title, but after day one, those hopes were gone. The series result would be the complete opposite of what the Cardinals wanted as they were the ones who were swept.
Thursday - Game 1
The first inning saw everything go to plan, a quick three outs for both Kent State and Ball State.
The second inning saw a Golden Flashes three-run home run, adding another run, it was 4-0 Kent State in the second inning. Not a bad start for the Cardinals, but not great.
Being down four is reasonable in a baseball game, especially in college when a comeback is always looming, but innings three and four quickly put out any fire Ball State had.
The third and fourth inning saw Kent State drive in 10 runs in each inning, going up 24-4 with only four innings being played.
There were obviously a lot of runs in those innings, to sum it up, home runs, grand slam and walks.
Kent State sophomore Jake Casey not only had a three-run home run in the third, he followed it up with a grand slam in the fourth inning.
Through four innings, five pitchers have been on the mound for the Cardinals.
Once it was all said and done, Kent State had won and almost put up 30 runs in their 29-11 win.
“Once it was out of hand there it was just putting guys out there and you weren't gonna burn any more key pitchers,” head coach Rich Maloney said on Thursday. “All you can do now is set up for the tournament and try to be ready when it comes.”
Even when down, Ball State did have a decent night at the plate.
With doubles, home runs, and 10 runners batted in, scoring 11 runs in a game is usually enough to be able to win, but in this case, Kent State was just way too far ahead.
“I like the fact that our guys kept swinging the bat,” Maloney said Thursday. “They did hit a lot of hard balls, we got a lot of hits and we got a lot of guys in [the game] and a lot of guys got nice hits. I thought that was a real positive.”
With two games left on Friday and Saturday, Maloney said the following games are just to be able to compete and get ready for the tournament ahead.
Friday - Game 2
The result of game two may have not been what Maloney expected. Just like game one, the second game of the series started very similarly. Besides one Kent State hit, both defenses shined in the first inning.
The first sign of offense was in favor of the home squad. In the bottom of the second, junior Decker Scheffler lifted a solo home run to center field.
But after that, it was all Kent State. They responded in the top of the third with five home runs. The Golden Flashes would go on to win the contest 14-3, in which they finished with six home runs.
“Kent State's playing really well,” Maloney said on Friday. “We have not been able to hold them down and you gotta take your hats off to them. It's tough when you're in that grind and you're getting whipped pretty good.”
Later in the eighth inning, the Cardinals would add a few more big flies to their stat sheet as freshman Dylan Gregor and junior Aiden Hinds launched back-to-back solo shots.
But from an offensive standpoint, it was two completely different stories. Kent State finished with 12 hits and Ball State only had three.
“That thing that's right now on us, hopefully, that lifts,” Maloney said Friday. “No matter what level you play it, whether you are a big league team or not, they all go through times like this. The thing is, can we fight back and this group has always fought back.”
One positive from the loss was the fact that multiple bench players were able to get playing time. This also allowed some different pitchers to get some time on the mound.
The Cardinals' third pitcher of the day, junior Sam Klein, had a solid outing. He left the mound with four strikeouts and only gave up one hit.
“It was great to see,” Maloney said Friday. “He was outstanding… He threw pitches for strikes and was the Sam that we know. And that was very encouraging.”
Saturday - Game 3
The final game of the series would be the finale of a lot of things. It was the final home game for the Cardinals, the final regular season game, and the final time that multiple seniors would play at First Merchants Ball Park Complex.
Before the game, nine Ball State seniors were honored. If Cardinal fans were hoping for a victory to go with the occasion, they left disappointed.
The game opened with a dominant performance from Kent State’s offense. Multiple base hits allowed the Golden Flashes to take a 3-0 lead.
But the Cardinals were ready in the bottom half of the inning. Senior Ryan Peltier and Scheffler both hit solo home runs to make it a one-run game.
Then in the bottom of the second, senior Matthew Rivera cranked a solo shot to tie the game. At this point, many may have wondered if this was the spark the Cardinals needed to overtake their opponent.
But no. It was not.
The Golden Flashes would take over the rest of the contest with multiple base hits and a home run, defeating Ball State 11-5.
This is a game that Maloney wants the Cardinals to forget about and told them this in the postgame huddle.
“[I told them] ‘Hey man, you guys gotta come and fight in the dark,’” he said on Friday. “I mean, it's just the way it is. You gotta flush this one and you gotta be ready to go because it's 0-0 and stats don't mean nothing [next week in the tournament].”
Even with the defeat, there were some positives for the Cardinals. Rivera would hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, which gave him two home runs on the night.
To Maloney, this senior class has been a special unit.
“It's been an amazing run for those guys,” he said Saturday. “They won themselves a championship [2022 MAC Regular Season], won a lot of games, and competed at a high level. They represented us really well both on the field and in the classroom.”
When The Ball State Daily News asked to interview Rivera and Peltier, they were denied by Ball State Manager, Communications and Branding person Chad Smith.
“No, not today,” Smith said on Saturday when asked about interviews.
The Cardinals will travel to Kent, Ohio to play in the MAC Tournament. They will be the No. 3 seed and will face Central Michigan for their first game. The contest will be Wednesday, May 24, and will start at 6 PM.