Ball State outduels Kentucky 3-1

In the game of baseball, great pitching will always overcome great hitting. On Friday night, a great pitching performance from Ball State's Ben Snyder made the great Kentucky offense look…well…not so great.

Snyder held the Batcats to just four hits through eight innings as he led the Ball State Cardinals to a 3-1 upset over the Wildcats in the first round of the Lexington Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

And out of the four hits he yielded, three of them came with the bases empty. Kentucky, who has been successful this season in large part because they have averaged 8.26 runs per game, was held to just a single run by the Cardinals' ace.

"There is no question that guy is going to play professional baseball," UK head coach John Cohen said of Snyder. "You know, this is what first round [of the region] is all about. It's about who you have on the mound."

Snyder has been the go-to guy for the Cardinals all year. In his last start, he pitched a complete game against Western Michigan in the first round of the MAC Tournament. His outing on Friday night, along with poor at bats on the Batcats' behalf, spoiled what was a good outing from senior southpaw Craig Snipp.

"You know, Craig did a great job for us," Cohen said, "but their guy was just outstanding tonight. I thought Craig matched him pitched for pitch, I just don't think we put together as good of at bats as they did."

Ball State worked the count all game long, and used that strategy to get the scoring started in the top of the second inning. With one out, the Cardinals poked three straight singles against Snipp to load the bases. Snipp struck out the designated hitter Matt Gard for the second out of the inning but the next hitter, leadoff man Eric Earnhart, delivered an RBI single to right field. Ball State's third base coach waved the runner from second home as well, but Collin Cowgill's throw from right was on the money and nailed Kyle Dygert at the plate to end the inning trailing just 1-0.

Kentucky's defense came to the rescue again in the third inning. A Ryan Wilkes throwing error and a single by Cardinal second baseman Kyle Dygert put runners on first and third with only one out. Chris Pestle stroked a line drive towards left field, but third baseman Michael Bertram leapt and made the snow cone grab on the liner and then quickly threw to first to double off Dygert and end the inning.

But even with Snipp and their defense on their game, without their offense, Kentucky just isn't the same team that the Big Blue Nation has grown to love so much this season.

The Wildcats had to manufacture to pull even in the bottom of the fifth inning. Left fielder Shaun Lehmann lead off the inning with a double to right center. Antone DeJesus laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Lehmann 90 feet from home. With the tying run at third and only one out, Collin Cowgill lifted a fly ball to centerfield that was just deep enough to allow Lehmann to slide into home safely on the sacrifice fly, tying the game 1-1.

Ball State retook the lead in the top of the eighth inning. Matt Singleton led off the inning with a single. With one out, Brad Miller fisted the first pitch he saw, turning it into a blooper that fell softly on the left field chalk line for a double.

Justin Rogers smashed a ground ball down the third baseline, scoring two more Ball State runs, before being gunned at second base by left fielder Shaun Lehmann as he tried to stretch his hit into a double. But the damage had already been done, as the Cardinals turned to Kyle Heyne in the ninth inning to close out the game and nail down the 3-1 upset for Ball State.

"I just don't think we locked in offensively at the plate," Cohen said. "What I mean by that is, I think through eight innings [Snyder] had 106 or 107 pitches. We had every opportunity to get him to 130 or 140 pitches, which would have made a huge difference in the game. Quite frankly, that's how we won the SEC Championship."

"If we aren't getting walks and hit by pitches and forcing six to seven pitch at bats then we aren't on our game plan. That's the type of overachieving type of club we have to have, and it just didn't happen tonight."

Despite the disappointment from Friday's loss, there was a great deal of excitement surrounding Cliff Hagan Stadium, as the NCAA Tournament came to Lexington, Kentucky for the first time in its history. Coach Cohen tipped his hat to the support that Kentucky fans have given his club this year.

"I can't tell the entire Big Blue Nation how appreciative we are for showing up to watch this club play," he said. "They scratched and clawed and worked their tails off to get to this point and they are going to fight really hard tomorrow and give it everything they have. I would really, really enjoy it if we have the same home field advantage tomorrow as we did today."

With Kentucky making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 13 years and only their fifth in school history, coach Cohen, the players and fans alike are hoping that Saturday's game against Big East Champion Notre Dame doesn't hand them their second straight two-and-out this year. The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Should they lose, their season would be over.


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