WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State gets first win of season over Murray State
Win over Racers marks 50th win of Packard's career
When coach Kelly Packard led her team onto the court of John E. Worthen Arena Saturday afternoon, she wasn't foreshadowing the accomplishment that's been within reach for the last 293 days, her 50th career win.
As Ball State squared off with Murray State, Packard knew her odds of attaining the accolade were good. When the final buzzer sounded, Packard looked up and smiled as the score read 81-72 in favor of the red and white.
When asked what the achievement meant to her personally, Packard shrugged at the mention of it.
"It doesn't mean anything to me," Packard said, following the game. "My heart ached. My heart ached at the end of last season with that trail of losses and it returned to that point of ache and hurt for the first three [games]."
Full of confidence after a much-needed victory, Packard said this win had nothing to do with 50 wins, but it had everything to do with her team.
"Being able to see them chalk one up on the left side of this hyphen, it's just huge," Packard said.
Not even two minutes into the game, the Cardinals found themselves down 6-0. But, a new team identity emerged with freshman guard Brittany Carter and sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens leading the way.
Carter, who set a new career-high with a trio of 3-point field goals against the Racers, put a stop to the early scoring surge.
Following three consecutive layups by the Racers, sophomore guard Brandy Woody found an open Carter, who set up and drained a 3-point field goal to cut the deficit in half.
"She's a confident shooter," Packard said. "Last year we struggled to find scoring. So being able to see multiple people on the floor right now that have that ability is huge."
Carter, who turned in an impressive outing with nine points and four defensive rebounds, shared the postgame publicity with Hitchens, who continued to dominate after serving a two-game suspension to open up the season.
Hitchens, who has come forth as a leader, was all over both ends of the court for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals held a 35-32 lead when the second half began, but the edge evaporated when the Racers took a one-possession advantage, before Hitchens put the game in her own hands.
Down by 10 with just under seven minutes to play, the Racers trimmed the deficit to five before Hitchens glided through the paint for an easy layup to put the Cardinals ahead by seven.
With just over two minutes to go, Hitchens gave the Cardinals an 11-point lead by sinking a pair of free throws.
Following the game Hitchens was all smiles and said she came out to regain her team's confidence.
"Those two games were hard not to play through," Hitchens said. "I just wanted to stay positive and show my team that I sat out for a reason and gained my respect back for showing how hard I can play and what I can do for the team."
Hitchens was a factor in the Cardinals' first victory in 13 games dating back to last season. She set a career-high with 22 points and added seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
For Packard, she no longer has getting her 50th win in the back of her head. She can now enjoy success without reminiscing on all of the past hardships her team has gone through.
"I'm just thankful," Packard said. "It's tough. It's tough when you're the person in charge and you're trying to think of the next thing that will help them. This was a great win for today, but it does things for our team that surpasses [today]."