Cards look to bounce back against Golden Flashes

Following a heartbreaking, game-winning three-run home run off the bat of Kent State senior catcher David Lyon, Ball State will look to even the weekend series with the pre-season Mid-American Conference favorite Saturday at Ball Diamond.

Sophomore right-hander T.J. Weir (0-5, 9.35 ERA) will take the hill for the Cardinals in search of his first win of the season. Second-year coach Alex Marconi has opted to insert Weir, one of the better hitters for the Cardinals, into the lineup instead of using the designated hitter. Weir will bat third for the Cardinals. In his last start, a 6-3 loss at MAC rival Akron, Weir tossed 5 2/3 innings, allowing five earned runs off 10 hits while recording six strikeouts.

Junior righty Ryan Bores (4-2, 4.46 ERA) will take the bump for Kent State. Bores will be making his seventh start of the season Saturday. He earned MAC East Pitcher of the Week honors last weekend after tossing eight innings, allowing three hits and striking out nine against Northern Illinois.

Starting Lineups

Kent State

Campbell, CF

Rider, SS

Lyon, C

Roberts, 1b

Bagoly, DH

Sutton, RF

Polen, 3b

Summers, LF

Toadvine, 2b

Ball State

Winkle, CF

Widau, 2b

Weir, P

C. Campbell, 1b

Beemer, LF

Godfrey, RF

Overley, C

Devarie, SS

Schlotter, 3b

Cards host Golden Flashes in MAC home opener

Starting Lineups

Kent State

Evan Campbell, CF

Jimmy Rider, SS

David Lyon, C

George Roberts 1b,

Nick Hamilton, 3b

Jason Bagoly, DH

T.J. Sutton, RF

Troy Summers, LF

Derek Toadvine, 2b

Ball State

Wes Winkle, CF

Mitch Widau, 2b

T.J. Weir, SS

Cody Campbell, 1b

Dominick Catanzarite, DH

Blake Beemer, LF

Sean Godfrey, RF

Elbert Devarie, 3b

Mitch Overley, C

After being outscored a combined 28-7 over its last two mid-week games, Ball State will host Kent State in the Mid-American Conference home opener Friday.

The Cardinals dropped two of three at Akron in the conference opener last weekend, and will look to get out of their current slump behind the arm of senior right-hander Cal Bowling (2-2, 3.68 ERA). Bowling has put this team on his shoulders this season, working into the seventh inning in each of his six starts. His best start of the season came on March 2 at Missouri when the righty tossed a five-hit, two-run complete game against the Tigers of the Big XII Conference. Bowling has allowed four or fewer runs in five of his six starts. He’s also tops among Cardinals’ starters in strikeouts, with 39.

Junior center fielder Wes Winkle continues to impress with his team-leading .362 batting average and 10-game hitting streak. Winkle extended the streak in the first inning of Wednesday’s game versus Indiana State with a single, and finished the game going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Winkle ranks first among Cardinals in strikeouts, with eight (players with at least 14 starts).

The Cardinals will face senior southpaw David Starn (4-2, 1.99 ERA) in Friday’s series premiere. Starn leads the Golden Flashes in innings pitched, with 40 2/3 and strikeouts, with 42. After struggling out of the gates, Starn helped the Golden Flashes defeat the Huskies of Northern Illinois 12-6 on March 23. Despite surrendering five runs, three of which were earned, Starn found his groove, retiring nine of the last 10 batters he faced while totaling a season-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings of work, tying his career-mark.

Games 2 and 3 will take place Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Cardinals’ sophomore right-hander T.J. Weir (0-5, 9.35 ERA) will face Golden Flashes’ junior right-hander Ryan Bores (4-2, 4.46 ERA) on Saturday. Sophomore righty Tyler Skulina (2-2, 3.00 ERA) will take the hill for the Golden Flashes on Sunday. Ball State’s starter for Sunday’s series finale has yet to be determined.

Ball State, Indiana State starting lineups

Starting Lineups

Indiana State

Curry, CF (.378/.411/.462)

Kraemer, 3b (.326/.463/.381)

Ort, 1b (.383/.585/.450)

Lucas, C (.404/.660/.453)

Burnam, LF (.385/.438/.430)

McCurdy, DH (.431/.647/.516)

Hileman, RF (.196/.304/.361)

Wampler, SS (.290/.366/.350)

Miera, 2b (.286/.357/.459)

Ball State

Winkle, CF (.333/.426/.327)

Widau, DH (.276/.345/.328)

Beemer, LF (.261/.275/.363)

Weir, SS (.280/.360/.349)

C. Campbell, 1b (.250/.393/.317)

Estep, 3b (.256/.308/.326)

Devarie, 2b (.255/.309/.323)

Godfrey, RF (.213/.277/.309)

Wellman, C (.182/.227/.217)

***

Ball State departed Dayton, Ohio Tuesday night with a sour taste in its mouth. The Cardinals (4-15) had just been thumped 14-5 against an opponent that appeared to be evenly matched with them. But in the world of baseball, a short memory is vital, and the Cardinals will need to quickly forget the outcome that transpired just 23 hours ago, as they play host to the Sycamores of Indiana State in their home opener at Ball Diamond Wednesday.

Following Tuesday’s game, I got a chance to catch up with second-year coach Alex Marconi and asked him what the vibe of the team will be for the home opener.

“I think everybody is relieved a little bit to not have to get on a bus to go play a baseball game,” he said. “It’ll be a good change of pace and gives us an opportunity to play at our home ballpark.”

The Cardinals’ skipper couldn’t be more right. After all, the club’s 19-game road trip to open the 2012 season wasn’t much of success. The team went a combined 4-15 on the trip and dropped two of three in its Mid-American Conference series opener at Akron last weekend. In the 19 games on the road, the Cardinals managed to score just 65 runs as opposed to their opponent’s 138. As a team, the Cardinals are batting .244 compared to their opponent’s mark of .296.

Those are just some of the statistics that stand out. For now, the focus turns to the Sycamores, who are by no means a cupcake. Since being swept at Southeastern Louisiana to open the season, the Sycamores have been on fire, posting a 20-2 record since then. The Sycamores have scored 10 or more runs in nine of their 25 games this season, all of which resulted in victories.

Offensively, the Sycamores are dangerously explosive, especially with junior catcher Jeremy Lucas and his .404 batting average (second best on the team), his team-leading 38 hits, 34 RBI, 62 total bases and .660 slugging percentage.

The Cardinals will turn to sophomore left-hander Nestor Bautista (0-3, 14.21 ERA) to keep the Sycamores’ lethal offense at bay. Bautista has made four starts this season and five appearances, recording just 12 2/3 innings, allowing 20 hits and 20 earned runs. Yes, Bautista’s statistics are both brutal and alarming. And yes, the young lefty has struggled of late. What a better time to start Bautista against a very good offensive team in an attempt to regain his confidence. Am I expecting Bautista to go the distance? Absolutely not. Am I expecting him to cruise through the Sycamores’ lineup? Of course not. This is a very important start for Bautista, especially if he wants to get his coach’s confidence back after a few shaky outings.

On the mound for the Sycamores will be freshman right-hander Kyle Rupe (4-0, 0.72 ERA). The rookie has been sensational for head coach Rick Heller this season by tossing a combined 25 innings, allowing just two earned runs off of 23 hits while striking out 18.

The Cardinals certainly have their work cut out for them. They will need to be patient, but aggressive and work the count to their favor. Though Bautista’s four starts haven’t overly impressive, the lefty hasn’t received much run support from the offense. In his first two starts combined, Bautista received a lone run from the Cardinals’ bats. His start at Mizzou on March 3 was his worst of the season as Bautista failed to make it out of the first inning, surrendering five runs, four of which were earned. Four days later at Tennessee, the offense gave Bautista a three-run lead to work with. But he couldn’t maintain it, ultimately allowing the Volunteers to jump ahead 6-3 before he was yanked.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more coverage from Ball Diamond closer to game time.

Chippewas, Huskies advance to semifinals

Good day…

Behind a 43-point effort from four freshmen, No. 5 seeded Central Michigan edged No. 8 seeded Ohio 58-55 Wednesday afternoon to advance to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals.

The Chippewas were down by one with 4:05 to play when freshman guard Crystal Bradford snagged an offensive rebound, caromed it off the backboard and through the basket to put her team ahead 54-53. A bucket from freshman forward Jas’Mine Bracy and another by Bradford gave the Chippewas just enough to hold off the aggressive Bobcats.

For the fourth consecutive season, the Chippewas advanced to the tournament quarterfinals, and fifth-year coach Sue Guevara said her team found their groove after struggling for most of the second half.

“We survived,” Guevara said, according to cmuchippewas.com. “I thought we were a little flat in the second half and struggled offensively, but I’ll tell you what, our kids gutted it out. We had some key rebounds when we needed [them] and some easy put-backs. It is a good win for our young team and this is the type of experience our freshmen need to have.

Bradford was the most explosive player offensively for the Chippewas, recording her eighth double-double of the season by scoring 17 points and coming down with 11 boards. Fellow freshman guard Jessica Green added 16 points and Bracy tallied 10 points. The Chippewas shot over 40 percent for the game as opposed to Ohio’s 33.9 shooting percentage.

Moving on…

With 0:06 remaining in Northern Illinois’ second-round game against Akron, senior forward Kim Davis drove through a crowded offensive lane, grabbed a missed shot from teammate Courtney Shelton and banked it off the backboard to give the Huskies a 61-60 victory over the Zips on Wednesday afternoon.

“They hurt us on the offensive glass and that’s how we won–Kim Davis gets the put-back,” coach Kathi Bennett said, according to niuhuskies.com. “I thought that was pretty special. We never stopped believing, even when we lost the lead. We just had to execute.”

The Zips had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds, but Jasmine Mushington’s desperation shot was too long as the buzzer sounded.

The win was Northern Illinois’ first two-win appearance in the MAC Tournament since 2007, and it now has a chance to upset No. 3 seeded Toledo Thursday afternoon.

“The good thing is, [is] we just played Toledo,” Bennett said. “We have a fresh [scouting report] and know what their tendencies are.”

The Huskies will tip off with the Rockets at 2:30 p.m. eastern time Thursday.

 

One and done for Ball State

The expectations for No. 12 seeded Ball State heading into the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament weren’t high, and Central Michigan erased any chance Ball State had of advancing to Cleveland by routing the visitors 86-60 Saturday afternoon.

The Cardinals trailed the Chippewas the entire game. The offense was poor, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field. The defense was pitiful, surrendering 64 points in the paint. The Cardinals turned the ball over 28 times, allowing the Chippewas to score 22 points. The Chippewas converted 40 percent of their 90 total field goal attempts on the afternoon.

The Cardinals came within one point of the Chippewas midway through the first half, but the visitors couldn’t keep pace and were drastically overpowered by their opponent.

Despite the loss, senior co-captain forward Suzanne Grossnickle turned in a career-performance for the Cardinals. Grossnickle recorded her fifth double-double of the season, scoring a career-high 25 points and coming down with 14 boards.

The offseason begins Monday, and the Cardinals’ program is in limbo. The future of coach Kelly Packard remains unclear. Athletics director Tom Collins will meet with Packard in Muncie next week, marking the beginning of the evaluation process.

The Road to Cleveland

*MUNCIE–The regular season has concluded, but the Mid-American Conference Tournament is about to begin. The first round will take place Saturday with four play-in games at various campus locations. No. 9 seed Kent State will travel to Ohio to take on the No. 8 seeded Bobcats at noon. A pair of mid-afternoon contests will follow, as No. 12 Ball State will travel to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to take on No. 5 Central Michigan and No. 11 Buffalo will make the trip to Akron, Ohio and go head-to-head with the No. 6 seeded Zips at 2 p.m. The first round finale will feature No. 10 Western Michigan at No. 7 Northern Illinois at 3:05 p.m.

No. 9 Kent State (6-20, 5-11) at No. 8 Ohio (13-17, 6-10)

This marquee matchup features a pair of Eastern Divisional teams. The Golden Flashes enter Saturday’s game with a 1-12 road record (1-7 conference road record), but split the season series with the Bobcats. Three players average 10 or more points for the Golden Flashes, including junior guard Trisha Krewson with 11.5 points per game, junior forward Diamon Beckford with 10.3 PPG and junior guard Tamzin Barroilhet with 10.2 PPG. For the Golden Flashes to have a chance, they will need to outscore the Bobcats in the first half. The Golden Flashes have been outscored by a combined 232 points in the first half this season.

Ohio enters Saturday’s game led by redshirt senior guard Tenishia Benson, who averages just less than 15 PPG. Sophomore guard Shavon Robinson is the only other Ohio player who averages more than 10 points per game. Offensively, the Bobcats rank second to last in the MAC in points per game, averaging  57.5 PPG. The entire roster will need to come through for the Bobcats against the Golden Flashes. If Benson and Robinson are the only source of offense, then the Bobcats will be one and done.

No. 12 Ball State (9-20, 4-12) at No. 5 Central Michigan (16-14, 8-8)

It’s been a struggle for Ball State this season, but the future of coach Kelly Packard may ride on this game against Central Michigan. This young Cardinals group has drastically struggled to put together any sort of road success, as they have amassed just two road victories this season, including just a lone conference road victory, a 75-56 route at Kent State on Feb 1. The Cardinals will look to repeat their last performance against the Chippewas, which resulted in an 84-76 triumph on Feb. 19 in John E. Worthen Arena. Freshman guard Brittany Carter, who leads the Cardinals’ offense, scoring a team-leading 255 points this season, will need to bring her A game. Carter is 9 for her last 24 from the field and 7 for her last 18 from beyond the arc. Senior co-captains Suzanne Grossnickle and Amber Crago will also need to aid the offense, especially in the paint, where the Cardinals have been outscored 120-66 in their last three games.

The Chippewas enter tournament play riding a three-game winning streak and will look to maintain their winning ways against the Cardinals. Freshman guard Crystal Bradford leads the Chippewas offensively, averaging more than 13 points per game. Despite their .500 record in conference play, the Chippewas are the second-highest scoring offense in the MAC, averaging over 70 PPG. In addition, the Chippewas lead the MAC in offensive rebounds, averaging over 43 boards per game.

No. 11 Buffalo (9-21, 4-12) at No. 6 Akron (13-17, 7-9)

The Bulls are looking to pull off an early upset over the Zips, who swept the season series. The Bulls closed out the 2011-12 season on a two-game home winning streak, defeating both Kent State and Ohio. Look for senior guard Brittany Hedderson to have a big game for the Bulls. Hedderson is second in the MAC in scoring, averaging over 21 PPG this season. Senior forward Beth Christensen is second in the conference in offensive rebounds, averaging over six boards per game for the Bulls.

The Zips closed out their regular season by snapping a three-game winless streak by defeating the Bulls 78-69 Tuesday night. Junior forward Rachel Tecca leads the Zips’ offense, averaging 17 points per game. Sophomore guard Sina King and junior guard Taylor Ruper are averaging double figures in scoring as well this season for the Zips. Ruper is third in the conference in 3-point field goals, averaging over two jumpers from downtown this season.

No. 10 Western Michigan (8-21, 5-11) at No. 7 Northern Illinois (12-16, 6-10)

The Broncos came away with a thrilling 66-64 overtime victory over the Huskies on Tuesday night to close out regular season play. They will look for their second consecutive triumph over the Huskies on Saturday. Redshirt senior guard Maria Iaquaniello heads the Broncos’ offense and is sixth in the conference in scoring, averaging over 14 PPG. Iaquaniello is also fifth in the conference in field goal percentage, making over 48 percent of her field goal attempts. Sophomore guard Corie Buchanan leads the group with 153 total rebounds.

The Huskies are fourth in the conference in free-throw percentage, at 72.3 percent and rank near the bottom in field goal percentage, at 37.4 percent. Despite dropping their regular season finale, the Huskies have won two of their last three games heading into tournament play. Freshman forward Claire Jakubicek leads the group offensively with an average of 12.9 PPG. Jakubicek leads the conference in free throw percentage, going a perfect 36-for-36 on the season. Senior guard Courtney Shelton is third in the conference in assists per game, averaging over three per game.

Teams to watch…

Eastern Michigan (21-8, 13-3)

The Western Division champion Eagles are on fire, having won nine of their last 10 games to close out the regular season. Senior guard Tavelyn James is the nation’s second leading scorer, averaging 25.9 PPG. The Eagles have a double-bye into the semifinals, which will take place on March 9 in Cleveland. Look for James to continue her dominance throughout the tournament.

Bowling Green (24-5, 14-2)

The Falcons clinched their eighth consecutive conference championship Tuesday night by rolling over Kent State 91-48. The top-seeded Falcons also have a double-bye into the semifinals. Their toughest opponent could end up being No. 4 seeded Miami (21-8, 11-5). Though the Falcons swept the season series, the RedHawks have won four of their last five games and are led by junior guard Courtney Osborn, who averages more than 18 points per game. Osborn ranks third in the MAC in points per game with 19.8, second in assists, averaging 4.9 per game, fourth in free throw percentage at 85.1 percent, third in steals with 2.5 per game and third in minutes played, averaging over 37 minuted per game.

Toledo (20-8, 13-3)

Toledo was one win shy of forcing a share of the Western Division title with Eastern Michigan. The Rockets won 12 of their final 13 regular season games and look to remain hot in the tournament. Junior center Yolanda Richardson leads the conference in field goal percentage, at 61.6 percent, and blocked shots, with 61. Look for the Rockets to square off with the Eagles in the semifinals.