In the first inning of today’s NCAA regional game in Lexington, KY, Ball State junior Decker Scheffler hit a single. That was followed by a double by senior Adam Tellier.
With two base runners on second and third with only one out, Cardinal fans might have thought that their team was going to hit the scoreboard early.
But then, the hometown Kentucky Wildcats retired the next two Ball State batters with a lineout and a strikeout. The Cardinals did not know it then, but that would end up being their best chance to score in their 4-0 opening loss of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think when we definitely came ready to play and we definitely felt like we were gonna win that game,” Ball State head coach Rich Maloney said. ‘It hurts to lose it because it was a winnable game, which is baseball.”
The first NCAA appearance for the Cardinals (36-22, 19-11 Mid-American Conference) since 2006 went their way for the most part. Starting pitcher senior Trennor O’Donnell was the main reason for that. When he left the game, he had thrown 119 pitches, allowing four hits and striking out four Wildcats.
“He was outstanding,” Maloney said. “I mean, he was simply splendid. It's too bad we couldn't get him any run support.”
The Cardinals offensive struggles weren't a big deal for the first half of the game. But in the bottom of the fourth, O’Donnell gave up a solo home run to Kentucky redshirt sophomore Devin Burkes. This is when something had to change.
But to Maloney’s dismay, it didn’t.
After Kentucky (37-18, 16-14 Southeastern Conference) starting pitcher redshirt freshman Travis Smith was relieved by sophomore Mason Moore, it was much worse. Moore went on to pitch the last five innings without allowing a single Ball State hit.
Then when the Cardinals made their own pitching change, the Wildcats loaded the bases and scored three runs.
Even with the struggles, Maloney believes one thing: his team has confidence.
“Two good teams played and they happened to pull it out,” Maloney said. “I don't think our team lacks any conference. I just think it's just baseball and every game is big at this time of the year.”
The Cardinals will now play in tomorrow's elimination game, with the first pitch beginning at noon. They will face the winner of Indiana (41-18, 16-8 Big Ten) and West Virginia (39-18, 15-9 Big 12).
“[The Cardinals] want to keep playing,” Maloney said. “So I imagine it would [give extra motivation] but I think they're highly motivated. And now we're going to face another team that is probably highly motivated because they won't want to stop playing baseball.”