The Irish needed 15 innings and some outstanding, clutch pitching to dispose of pesky Ball State. The Cardinals had defeated the Irish four out of the last five contests before the Tuesday's victory.
Sophomore Tom Thornton took the ball for the Irish on just three days rest and struggled at times, but Irish ace Chris Niesel and closer Ryan Doherty had clutch performances on the mound to save an Irish victory.
The Cardinals got things rolling in the first inning when centerfielder Mike Sullivan led off the inning with a single. He was later knocked in by first baseman Brad Miller's homer over the left field wall giving Ball State the 2-0 lead.
The Irish bounced back when Zach Sisko and Matt Bransfield singled in the bottom of the first. Sisko scored on a Javi Sanchez sacrifice fly and Bransfield later scored on a wild pitch to tie the game, 2-2.
The Cardinals took the lead again in the fourth when third baseman Marc Franz singled right. Miller then hit his second home run over the left field wall to give Ball State the 4-2 lead. Two straight doubles tacked on another run giving the Cardinals the 5-2 lead.
The Irish picked up another run in the bottom of the fourth when catcher Javi Sanchez reached on a single and would later score on a wild pitch to narrow the lead, 5-3 Ball State.
The Cardinals picked up another run in the fifth when catcher Lucas Fry knocked in another run giving the Cardinals the 6-3 lead.
Irish Coach Paul Mainieri, knowing this was a key game, brought in junior ace Chris Niesel and Niesel shut down the Cardinal hitters until the Irish could battle back to tie the game.
Niesel pitched 8 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to keep the Irish in the game until they could mount their comeback.
The Irish would then chip away at the lead, adding a run in the seventh, eighth and tying in the game in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
The Irish and the Cardinals held serve for the next six innings with both teams having opportunities to win thwarted by solid fielding and pitching.
Irish Coach Paul Mainieri was thrilled with the victory. "I told this to the guys after the game," said Mainieri. "Every year that I've been here, there's always been a game that we can point at and say that ‘that game made our season.' I really believe that that's what this game was today. I thought our kids found a way, did what they had to do and this is going to be a turning point in our season."
The real story of the game was watching Niesel mow down hitter after hitter with that patent Chris Niesel stare. Mainieri could not have been more pleased with Niesel's performance. "I thought Niesel really pitched the way we grew to love Chris Niesel. He went out there and competed for all he was worth. Maybe it will be a turning point for him, too. He hasn't pitched up to his capabilities all year. This was the best he's looked all year, and maybe this is going to vault him to the last portion of the season.
"He just competed so hard. He just wanted it bad. You could see it in his eyes. He wouldn't let me take him out of the game. That's what champions do--they want the ball in their hands."
Niesel believes this will be the turning point for him this season. "I feel like I really turned it around tonight," Niesel said. "We had a meeting two weeks ago and I told my teammates that I haven't been pitching as well as I can. I told them I was going to do my best to turn everything around. Tonight I hit my spots, I did my job, and I got big strikeouts late in the game that helped me a lot."
The Irish will return to Eck Stadium tonight for a game against Cleveland State at 6:05 PM. "We're going to ride Jess Stewart as long as we can because we still got two ballgames to play after tomorrow," Mainieri said about Wednesday's starter. But, Tuesday's victory was an important one for the Irish, and we believe it will catapult this team into the last part of the season.