When Michigan coach Rich Maloney came to Ann Arbor in 2002, he left a Ball State team he had rebuilt from shambles.
In his time at Michigan, Maloney has not yet played his old team.
“I chose not to play them,” Maloney said.
Maloney wanted to distance himself from Ball State while he formed a new relationship with Michigan. But after six years, he’s ready.
On Saturday, Maloney and the Wolverines will face off against Ball State in the Centex Homes Invitational in Conway, S.C.
“When we play them, there will be some emotion,” Maloney said. “I have a definite affinity for that school. I loved Ball State.”
While coaching the Cardinals, Maloney turned a team that was 15-41 the year before he arrived into the team to beat in the Mid-American Conference. Ball State finished first in the conference standings twice but never won the conference tournament.
When Maloney came to the Wolverines, he was faced with a similar scenario.
The year before Maloney arrived at Michigan, the Wolverines were 21-32 and eighth in the Big Ten. But in each of the last three years, Michigan has had more than 40 wins and has won the regular season conference title the last two seasons.
But the Wolverines (5-5) have struggled to find their stride this season, especially in losses to No. 1 Arizona State and Georgia Southern.
“We’re not happy about being 5-5,” Maloney said. “Nobody is.”
Michigan’s biggest problem areas have been pitching and fielding. The pitching staff has allowed seven runs per game, which has put a lot of pressure on the Wolverine batters.
The hitters haven’t been able to pick up the slack. Michigan is hitting .311, compared to .327 at the end of last season.
The biggest test for Michigan will be a double-header against Coastal Carolina (13-1) Sunday. The Chanticleers are fresh off an upset over No. 3 North Carolina, and defeated Ball State, last weekend 10-8 and 6-1.
“We look forward to the opportunity, and if we compete up to our ability, we feel like we’ll have a chance to win,” Maloney said.
For the first time all season, Michigan fell from the top 25 this week. Coastal Carolina, on the other hand, is on the verge of becoming nationally ranked.
But before Michigan faces the upstart Chanticleers, Maloney has to first revisit the past.
When Michigan takes the field against the Cardinals (7-6), some of Maloney’s Ball State players will be in the stands to watch their old coach with his new team.
“Those kids bought into the vision that I had of building a program,” Maloney said. “Several of them chose to come play for me rather than some other teams that had more history than we had. I will be forever indebted to those kids.”
While the former Cardinals will have a tough time rooting for their old coach over their alma mater, Maloney has no qualms about facing Ball State.
“We’re going to win,” Maloney said. “Despite the opponent, we’re going to have to put our feelings aside and get it done.”