The Ball State Cardinals (16-8, 3-0 MAC) began the conference season with a three-game sweep of the defending MAC tournament champion Bowling Green Falcons (6-15, 0-3 MAC).
Zach Plesac earned a win and two saves, while Jarrett Rindfleish accumulated five hits in 11 at-bats. He drove in three runs and scored twice.
The Falcons resume MAC play this weekend with a three-game series against Northern Illinois. Ball State continues their schedule with a key series at Buffalo.
Here are recaps of the three games...
The Cardinals opened MAC play with a 9-5 victory that was spurred by a big fourth inning. Ball State chased Bowling Green starter Cody Apthorpe with five unearned runs during the fourth frame and never trailed during the game.
Ball State got the scoring underway with a 3-run second. They loaded the bases with nobody out, and after a sacrifice fly by Brandon Estep, Kyle Raileigh doubled to center and drove in two more runs. Down 3-0, the Falcons answered right back in the top of the third with four straight two-out hits. Brian Bien laid down a bunt single to start the rally, and T.J. Losby and Jake Thomas both cracked RBI singles to close the score to 3-2.
BSU added a run to their lead in the third, then blew the game open in the fourth inning. The Cardinals placed runners on first and third with one out, when third baseman Greg Basalyga botched a ball from Ryan Spaulding. Raleigh scored to increase the lead to 5-2. After a pop out to catcher and a walk that loaded the bases with two outs, Caleb Stayton drove a single to left center that drove home two more runs. At that point, Jason Link replaced Apthorpe but immediately gave up back-to-back RBI singles. He finally induced a ground out fielder's choice at second, but Ball State ended the fourth with a 9-2 lead.
Link pitched the remainder of the game for BGSU and was very effective. In the final four innings, he gave up only four hits, walked just one batter and struck out five.
Unfortunately, the Falcons could not muster enough offense to pull off the comeback. Logan Walker doubled and was driven home by Brandon Howard in the sixth, but Jeremy Shay tapped back to the pitcher to end the inning and leave the bases loaded. In the seventh, Walker doubled again, this time for two RBI. However, Tyler Jordan was able to retire the next two Falcons, and BGSU did not score again.
Stayton had the biggest game for the Cardinals, as he went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Overall, the 4th through 8th spots in the Cardinal order combined for eight hits in 16 at-bats, eight RBI and four runs. Starting pitcher T.J. Weir held BGSU to three runs and struck out six batters in 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory. Zach Plesac struck out Basalyga with two runners on to end the game for his third save.
Thomas reached base four times in five plate appearances for Bowling Green. The team accumulated 15 hits, and seven different players had at least two. However, the team left 13 men on base. Apthorpe dropped to 1-5 on the season. He gave up six hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings, and that led to nine runs, four of which were earned.
The Cardinals managed only three runs off Falcons' starter Mike Frank, but that was enough to earn a one-run victory in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader in Muncie. BSU pitchers restricted BGSU batters to just six hits, then withstood a furious ninth-inning rally to save the game.
Ball State scored individual runs three times to build their lead. In the first, they opened their initial time at the plate with a walk and a single. Jarrett Rindfleish singled to shortstop with one out to drive in Alex Call. Frank retired the next two batters, but BSU held a 1-0 lead. They scored again later when Kyle Raleigh led off the bottom of the fifth with a double and Call drove him home with one out. Once again, the Cardinals could not expand the inning further. Three straight one-out singles off Frank allowed Ball State to score their final run in the eighth inning.
While the Cardinals were slowly building their small lead, Scott Baker was dispatching the BGSU offense with ease. In the first eight innings, Bowling Green managed just three hits and sent only one batter over the minimum to the plate, as two of those three hits were erased via double plays.
It appeared as if the ninth inning would be no different. Although Greg Basalyga led off with a single for Bowling Green, Baker quickly retired the next two batters to get within one out of a shutout. It wasn't meant to be. As he did on Friday, Brian Bien sparked a rally with a bunt single, and Jeremy Shay drove home both Basalyga and Bien with a double to right field. All of a sudden, it was a 3-2 game with Shay in scoring position. Zach Plesac immediately replaced Baker, and for the second straight day, he earned a one-out save. Plesac induced a grounder to short from T.J. Losby, and Ball State won 3-2.
Eight of Ball State's 14 hits were made by the top four players in their order, and the group was 8-for-14 during the game. Rindfleish posted two hits and drove in two runs, while Ryan Spaulding led all players with three hits. Baker allowed six hits, no walks and just two runs in 8 2/3 innings for his third win, and Plesac earned his fourth save.
Bien and Basalyga each had two hits for Bowling Green and combined for four of the team's six base knocks. Shay had one and drove in both of the team's runs. Frank threw 7 2/3 innings and gave up 10 hits and three earned runs. He is now 0-4 in 2014.
Bowling Green jumped out to an early lead but gave up three fifth-inning runs and dropped the final game of a Saturday doubleheader in Muncie.
The Falcons finally took their first lead of the three-game series in the top of the third. Jesse Rait worked a walk with two out, and Patrick Lancaster doubled him to third. Brian Bien followed with a double to right field that scored both Rait and Lancaster.
BGSU starting pitcher Andrew Lacinak maintained the lead through the third and fourth innings, but Ball State answered with a three-run fifth during which they needed only one hit. That one hit was a leadoff double from Brandon Estep. Nick Hollowell earned a walk, and the runners were sacrificed to second and third. Lacinak then hit Alex Call with a pitch to load the bases, but Estep made a baserunning mistake and was retired a third. Ryan Spaulding worked a walk to re-load the bases.
Lacinak forced in a run by hitting Sean Godfrey with a pitch, and he was replaced by Ben Singer. Singer immediately repeated the feat by hitting Jarrett Rindfleish. T.J. Weir earned a walk to force in the third and final run in the inning. In all, Lacinak and Singer combined to hit three batters and walk three more during the fifth inning.
The Cardinals scored again in the seventh, this time without the benefit of any hits at all, when Spaulding walked, moved to third on an error, then scored on a Weir sacrifice fly. BGSU answered with a two-out RBI hit from Logan Walker in the ninth, but they could not push across the tying run.
After earning the one-out save in the first game of the doubleheader, Zach Plesac came back to throw 8 2/3 innings to improve to 6-1 this season. He allowed seven hits and three earned runs. He also permitted just one walk and struck out five batters. Tyler Jordan, who also worked on Friday, earned a one-out save for the Cardinals. Ball State batters only earned five hits, but they took advantage of seven walks, two errors and three hit batters.
Lacinak (1-2) took the loss for the Falcons by allowing three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Walker posted three hits in the losing effort.