Ball State women’s basketball battled back in the fourth quarter after trailing by as many as 14 points, but the comeback attempt fell just short as the team suffered its first loss of the season in its Mid-American Conference opener against Central Michigan (9-3, 1-0 MAC) by a score of 69-65.

“It was frustrating because of our rebounding effort and it was frustrating because of what we allowed Reyna Frost to do,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “A lot of credit goes to her and their plan.”

Central Michigan junior forward Reyna Frost had herself a day against the Ball State defense. The NCAA’s third-leading rebounder finished the afternoon with 23 points and 19 rebounds on a red-hot 9-12 shooting from the field after playing all 40 minutes.

Despite what seemed like nothing going right through three quarters for the Cardinals, they found a way to battle back and stay within reach, tying the game up on five different occasions in the last six minutes after forcing six of Central Michigan’s 26 turnovers in the final frame on the way to some easy transition baskets in the last 10 minutes.

“I was proud of the team for reaching down and finding a way to get themselves back into and give them a chance to win in a tough night,” Sallee said. “All the credit in the world goes to Central Michigan, they’re good and now we’ll see what we’re made of after our first bit of adversity this year and see how we move forward.”

From the start of the game, Ball State went through a stretch of shooting that is unfamiliar to them. Coming into the game shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, the Cardinals shot 0-9 from deep in the first quarter, finishing the afternoon 5-32 from behind the arc.

“What we did in the first half was play very offensively sensitive, we started missing shots and it affected what we were doing on the other end,” Sallee said. “In the second half we quit worrying about that as much and I think you saw some different stuff.”

Ball State’s shooting woes carried over to the free throw line as well. The team had dealt with poor free throw shooting for much of the season as it entered the game shooting just 67 percent on the season, but Saturday afternoon was even worse. The Cardinals shot just 44 percent from the charity stripe, leaving much-needed points at the line throughout the afternoon.

“It was brutal,” Sallee said. “You can’t go 8-18 in this kind of game and expect to win. We’ve kind of struggled there a little bit all year. We seemed to have turned a corner and then it snowballed on us.”

Central Michigan’s free throw performance may have won them the game. Coming in shooting 83 percent from the foul line on the year, the Chippewas went 17-19 from the charity stripe and hit the ones that counted as the Cardinals were forced to intentionally foul in the final 30 seconds of the game.

Senior forward Moriah Monaco finished the contest with 17 points in 38 minutes, eight of which came in the final quarter as Ball State tried to make a comeback.

“We’re not going to quit just because we’re down,” Monaco said. “We haven’t seen that this year but we’ve been in those situations before, so we knew what we had to do, we had to get stops on defense, rebound the ball and run like we always do and that’s what we did.”

Ball State (11-1, 0-1 MAC) struggled to rebound the ball until the fourth quarter, the only quarter in which Ball State won the rebounding margin. Overall, the Cardinals were outrebounded 55-44 despite pulling down 20 rebounds on the offensive glass.

Although the outcome didn’t favor the Cardinals, coach Sallee liked the way the Cardinals were able to battle back and give themselves a chance to win the game.

“You saw a lot of pride out on the floor,” Sallee said. “There’s a reason we were 11-0 coming into it. I don’t want to say it’s been easy getting to 11-0 but we’d been making shots and playing at this high-speed pace and today was a grind-it-out, what you would expect a championship game to look like. Sometimes you have to win ugly and credit Central Michigan because they won ugly tonight.”

Ball State will return to Worthen Arena on Jan. 3 to host the Miami Redhawks in the second outing of its MAC schedule and the final game of its six-game home stand. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m.

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu or on Twitter @NateNada.