Since becoming a varsity program in 1975, Ball State softball has reached 37 or more wins just five times. The 2018 season was one of those five.

Finishing the year with seven more wins and 10 fewer losses than it had in 2017, Ball State (37-18) saw steady improvement throughout the season and hit many high notes along the way.

Road to home

While playing its first 33 games away from the home field of First Merchants Softball Complex — the longest stretch of road games in program history — the Cardinals announced themselves as one of the elite teams in the Mid-American Conference by going 23-10 over that stretch, including a 9-3 start to the season.

During that stretch, Ball State took then No. 21/22 Michigan to the edge, falling to the Big Ten powerhouse in a 2-3 thriller in Boca Raton, Florida. The Cardinals limited the Wolverines to one earned run with the help of five strikeouts from pitcher Aeshia Miles and Janae Hogg connected on one of her 14 home runs on the season, which was second in the MAC.

A walk in the seventh-inning caused the upset bid to fall just short, but the Cardinals had proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with by giving their ranked opponent everything it could handle.

1,000 ways to win

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the season, though, was when the team reached a major milestone by eclipsing 1,000 wins as a program.

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On April 13, 2018, Ball State became the first MAC softball program to reach 1,000 wins when it topped conference foe Western Michigan.

In the eyes of head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett, there is one thing that makes Ball State a formidable opponent against anyone, powerhouse or not.

“[Ball State] is tough and gritty,” Bartlett said in an April interview. “They weren’t scared of anyone or anything and just didn’t back down. That’s been the staple of this program for a really long time. They don’t care whose ballpark they are in — they’re going to play as hard as they can.”

That mindset allowed Ball State to join the likes of Power Five schools such as Alabama, LSU and Tennessee, all of which were ranked top 15 in the nation this season and have also reached 1,000 wins.

“Passion has driven this program very, very far,” senior Danae King said in an April interview. “Being very passionate and gritty towards what we do has really helped the overall success of this program.”

Flying high to end the regular season

After dropping four of its previous five games from April 15-20, the Cardinals responded by rattling off their longest winning streak of the season at six games, winning seven of their last eight outings to close the regular season.

Its 2-1, nine-inning win over Toledo allowed Ball State to clinch a share of its seventh MAC West Division Championship and enter the MAC Tournament as the No. 2 seed.

Throughout that eight-game stretch, Ball State defeated opponents by seven or more runs in three of those outings.

Statistical Standouts

Individually, Ball State had players ranked in the top five of positive statistical categories 27 times in the MAC as of May 6.

Sophomores Hailey Dominique and Janae Hogg accounted for many of those appearances among the conference's batting leaders.

Dominique finished fourth in batting average (.394), second in on base percentage (.492), tied for third in runs scored (42), tied for first in hits (65) and fifth in home runs (11).

Hogg was tied for fourth in RBIs (44), finished second in home runs (13) and showed off her good eye for the ball by getting walked 43 times, which was second in the conference.

Solid batting is only part of the battle, though. Ball State's pitching unit was dominant at times throughout the season.

Right-handed sophomore Alyssa Rothwell led the MAC in earned run average (ERA) with just a 1.69, while right-handed junior Aeshia Miles was not far behind in third with a 2.01.

Rothwell was able to consistently keep runners off the bases, giving up a solid .191 batting average to her opposition, which was good for second in the conference.

Overall, Ball State softball put together a campaign it can build off of moving forward, and it has a lot of returning contributors to look forward to in 2019 to follow up a milestone year for the program.

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