Weather delay; Broncos lead 4-0

T.J. caught Vinnie Booker, the first Western Michigan hitter of the game, looking at strike three for the first out of an ever-so important three-game, Western divisional weekend series. What appeared to be the start of a good afternoon for Weir quickly evaporated into thin air.

The next two Broncos’ reached base via hits before third-baseman Ryan McMillin drove in the game’s first run with a one-out sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring designated hitter Zach Thoma.

Weir found himself in a similar situation in the second frame. After setting down leadoff man Jared Kujawa on strikes, Weir hit shortstop Andrew Sohn. With one down and a runner on first, first baseman Troy Forton lined a sharp ground-ball to Cardinals’ shortstop Elbert Devarie, who settled, crow-hopped, pivoted and fired to second for what appeared to be the beginning of a 6-4-3 double play. But second baseman Mitch Widau fumbled the throw and both runners were safe.

Sophomore catcher Mitch Overley made up for Widau’s error by throwing out Sohn at third base for the second out of the inning. Weir got out of the jam by fanning second baseman Dan Shutes to end the inning.

The third inning proved to be back-breaker for Weir, who was unable to work his way out of trouble. After allowing a leadoff single from Booker, McMillin launched a two-run home run to left-center field, the first of back-to-back home runs for the Broncos in the inning.

By the time lightning struck, the Broncos were up 4-0 and still batting in the top of the third.

***

Starting Lineups

Western Michigan 

Vinnie Booker, cf

Zach Thoma, dh

Jack Scanlon, rf

Ryan McMillin, 3b

Patrick Duncan, lf

Jared Kujawa, c

Andrew Sohn, ss

Troy Forton, 1b

Dan Shutes, 2b

Ball State

Wes Winkle, cf

Mitch Widau, 2b

T.J. Weir, p

Billy Wellman, 1b

Blake Beemer, lf

Cody Campbell, rf

Tim Issler, 3b

Elbert Devarie, ss

Mitch Overley, c

***

As the season draws closer to the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Cardinals (11-29) will host the Broncos of Western Michigan in a Western divisional showdown to close out the home portion of the 2012 regular season schedule.

The series kicks off at 3 p.m. Friday with games 2-3 taking place Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.

***

After a taxing week filled to the brim with final exams, coach Alex Marconi took it easy on his players as they devoted all of their free time to their academics. Marconi lightened the workload during practice. Instead of having intense practice sessions, Marconi insisted on having fun and loosening the mood of the team.

“I know they’re physically tired and now they’re mentally tired with the season plus exams this week,” Marconi said. “We did a couple of drills out there and played a couple of games to have some fun.”

But Marconi made sure his team got some mechanical work in prior to the weekend series with the Broncos.

It’s been anything but easy for the Cardinals, who’ve dropped three straight and four of their last five. But this three-game set with the Broncos could make or break the boys donning the red and white. At 6-12, the Cardinals find themselves in the cellar of the division. Meanwhile, the Broncos sit in fourth place at 7-10.

The stakes couldn’t be any higher for the Cardinals, who are looking to get back into the mix for the division. Marconi will go with sophomore right-hander T.J. Weir (2-7, 5.61 ERA) in the series opener, and Marconi has instilled all of his confidence in his young pitcher.

“I can say that T.J. Weir has done a tremendous job of helping us lesson the loss of Cal. T.J. has done a great job of keeping us in games on Fridays. That’s the competitor in him.”

Weir has done just that since taking over as the No. 1 starter after senior ace Cal Bowling broke his right hand. Weir might own a 1-2 mark over his last three starts, but he’s tossed a combined 19 2/3 innings, allowed eight earned runs off 18 hits while fanning 14.

Marconi said it’s crucial for his team to play their game. That will determine the outcome of this weekend.

“If we have good at-bats, if we have good pitching, play good defense, we’re going to have a chance to win. We’ve done that consistently here over these last four or five weeks and we just need to continue to do that.”

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Ball State resumes conference play, hosts Miami

Two days removed from a 6-5, 15-inning loss at Indiana, its longest game since April 24, 2004, Ball State (5-20, 1-5) will take the field on short rest, playing host to Mid-American Conference member Miami.

At 3 p.m. today, the Cardinals will be playing their sixth game in the last eight days. Four of their last five have gone to extra innings. In all, the Cardinals have played a grand total of 55 innings over the past five games.

Despite all the extra play and invaluable experience his young team is getting, coach Alex Marconi believes his team isn’t too worn out.

“I think we’ve overextended some guys on the mound a little bit and that’s the thing we have to be careful with about this weekend,” Marconi said. “Other than that, I think we’ve done a good job preparing them to be in pretty good shape.”

Over their past two games, a 7-6, 10-inning win over Indiana Tech on Tuesday and Wednesday’s loss, the Cardinals’ bullpen has worked a combined 16 2/3 innings, allowing six earned runs on 13 hits. The bullpen couldn’t be happier to have senior right-hander and ace Cal Bowling on the hill in the series opener. Last season, Bowling tossed a four-hit, complete game at Miami, and the righty will look for a repeat performance this time around.

The Redhawks can certainly handle the bats, hitting a collective .306. But pitching and field have hurt them this season. The Redhawks own a 5.65 ERA as a staff, and have made 47 errors, fifth most in the conference.

“They’re struggling a little bit defensively,” Marconi said. “They’re struggling a little bit on the mound. We’re going to have to pitch well and take advantage of their pitching staff this weekend.”

Starting Lineups

Miami

Ryan Brenner, 2b

Matt Honchel, LF

Bryce Redeker, RF

Kevin Bower, 1b

John Crummy, C

Max Andresen, DH

Scott Slappey, SS

Dan Wash, 3b

Ryan Curl, CF

Ball State

Wes Winkle, CF

Mitch Widau, 2b

T.J. Weir, SS

Cody Campbell, 1b

Sean Godfrey, RF

Blake Beemer, LF

Brandon Estep, DH

Elbert Devarie, 3b

Mitch Overley, C

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.