A magical run in the conference playoffs before getting cut abruptly short left Ball State with a bad taste in their mouths at the end of the 2013 season.
After going just 28-23 (15-12) during the season, the Cardinals got hot in the MAC Tournament, beating Miami, then No. 1 seed Kent State twice to make it to the finals.
However, they lost to Bowling Green in the final 7-0, and because someone in the MAC front office must have had a stroke when organizing the tournament, the final game wasn't double elimination like the rest of the playoffs. So despite having only lost one game during the tournament, the Cardinals were robbed of a potential College World Series bid.
The turnaround for Ball State can largely be awarded to the return of long-time manager Rich Maloney. He headed the Cardinals from 1996-2002, earning two conference championships and two MAC Coach of the Year awards before leaving to manage Michigan.
He returned from Ann Arbor in 2013, taking a team that finished 14-36 (9-18) the year before to 31-24 (15-12), including a victory against in-state rival and then nationally ranked Indiana, a team that would go on to play in the College World Series.
This season, Maloney will work on building from the momentum gained at the end of the season. He will have to do it with some pieces leaving, such as Blake Beemer (led team in doubles) and pitcher Chris Marangon (second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts).
But the cupboard is far from bare. Outfielder and All-MAC Second Team Sean Godfrey returns, who led the Cardinals with a .329 batting average and a .489 slugging percentage. Home run leader T.J. Wier will be back as well.
On the mound, junior Scott Baker will be the ace for the Cardinals. Last year, Baker went an amazing 12-2 in 16 starts with a 2.18 ERA and 88 strikeouts while only issuing 35 walks. He won several accolades, including MAC Pitcher of the Year, Louisville Slugger All-America Third Team, and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-America Third Team.
The 2014 schedule has its challenges. Ball State will face off against Big Ten opponents Iowa and Northwestern back-to-back in the Snow Bird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida. They'll also have a weekend series against Kentucky in Lexington and face Indiana, currently ranked 11th in USA Today's preseason poll, in Bloomington once again.
However, if Ball State can continue with the momentum they gained last year, it wouldn't be shocking to think the Cardinals could again compete for a MAC championship.
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