Rhett Umphress

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. In gymnastics, close is the difference between winning and losing.

The Ball State University gymnastics team learned that lesson the hard way yet again. The team was one fall on the balance beam short of a perfect meet – being able to count 20 clean routines – as it lost to Illinois State University (194.15-193.925) Friday night.

"I think that [the Ball State gymnasts] really thought they won," coach Nadalie Walsh said. "It was bittersweet in the end."

The loss is the third straight by less than a point for the Cardinals, who have lost their last three by a combined score of 0.875.

Ball State (3-5) had first-place finishers in all four individual events and won the vault as a team. Senior Bibiana Rodriguez won the uneven bars with a career-best 9.875 and junior Katelyn Busacker tied for first on the beam with a career-best 9.825.

Sophomore Brittney Emmons picked up wins seven through nine on the season. She won the vault (season-best 9.875) and tied for first on the floor (9.875). She also had career highs on the bars (9.8) and beam (9.75) en route to an unopposed all-around victory with a 39.3.

"[Emmons] did exactly what she practices and put it all together tonight," Walsh said.

Emmons' all-around score is the third-best all-time at Ball State. It is the highest score ever in a regular season meet.

In all, the Cardinals posted 12 career highs and two season highs. Also, the team's vault, bars, beam and overall score were the highest of the season.

Ball State's 193.925 is the highest score it has had under Walsh and the best score since 2004.

Illinois State (6-2) took the meet on the fifth score Friday. The Falcons' fifth-highest gymnast in each event outscored the Cardinals' fifth-best by more than 0.35, larger than the margin of victory.

Senior Ashley Jacob competed in her first meet of the season Friday. She fell on the bars, scoring a 9.075. Walsh expressed some frustration at the senior's mistake.

"It's not about how old you are, but how confident," Walsh said. "I know she can turn it around next week."

Redshirt freshman Julie Cotter missed the meet, her third of the season, after staying in Muncie following an illness. Cotter has been a top-five scorer for the Cardinals in every event she's participated in this year.

One solace for the team is that by improving on its previous season high by more than a point, it has upped its average score and helped its standing in the Central Region. Walsh said her team is coming together and starting to believe in its potential.

"I've been telling them all along they're a 194 team, and if they clean it up, they're a 195," she said. "Now they can see I'm telling the truth."

Ball State returns to action Feb. 14 when it plays host to Bowling Green State University at Worthen Arena. The meet will be the start of a three-meet home stand for the Cardinals. Walsh said that the score from this meet will motivate the Cardinals to work hard and improve their scores in front of the home crowd.

"It's hard to put out a fire when you believe," she said.