The women's volleyball team needed to win both matches heading into last weekend in order to have a shot of finishing the season first in the Mid-American Conference and earning the chance to host the MAC Tournament.
A 30-21, 25-30, 27-30, 30-23, 16-18 loss at Western Michigan Friday night and a Northern Illinois win over Central Michigan put the Cardinals (19-8 overall, 14-4 MAC) out of contention for the MAC crown.
However, if the BSU had beaten Western Friday, they would have finished first in the MAC anyway. Because Northern Illinois lost on Saturday night to Western Michigan and Ball State beat Central Michigan Saturday, BSU and NIU would have finished in a tie for the season, with the tiebreaker going Ball State's way.
"The weekend went almost as I imagined," Litchfield said. "We did not give ourselves a chance for the championship which was ready to fall in our lap. That kind of makes me sick. When we face a desperate team in a big match, we've got very little going for us.
"I was fully expecting a desperate volleyball team," Litchfield said about Western Michigan. "They were fighting for their tournament lives, and we had no response to that."
BSU rebounded with a 30-20, 30-26, 20-30, 30-27 victory against Central Michigan in a match that had little meaning.
"It was the first match that we've played in many years that had no bearing on anything," Litchfield said. "It was a really poor mental performance, but physically we played pretty well."
Nonetheless, Ball State earned the third seed in the tournament and will host No. 6 Eastern Michigan at 7 tonight at Worthen Arena, where it has won 41 straight matches. Northern Illinois earned the tourney's top seed and will host No. 8 Toledo.
Ball State did lose to Eastern Michigan on the road earlier this season. According to Litchfield, the Cardinals have their work cut out for them against a team with quick outside hitters and an enormous level of energy.
"They are the best road team in the league, bar none," Litchfield said. "We had runaway wins at home against other teams. It was a battle against Eastern Michigan. They seem to be very resilient. When you play Eastern Michigan, you never feel like you've got them."
In the other tourney quarterfinal matches, No. 2 Bowling Green will host No. 7 Western Michigan, and No. 4 Miami will welcome No. 5 Akron.
"This is absolutely the most wide open conference championship that I've ever seen," Litchfield said. "From top to bottom, this is a really solid group of teams. We've had some real cupcakes before in the quarterfinal rounds. There's not one of those amongst any of the four matches."
After the quarterfinals, the team remaining with the highest seed will host the semifinal and championship matches. BSU will play the winner of the Western Michigan and Bowling Green match.
"I'll be shocked if two higher seeds don't fall to lower seeds in the quarterfinals," Litchfield said. "We're going to have to go through three good teams, and that will be extremely difficult. It will be fun to go out and try to earn it. The winner of this tournament will really deserve it."
Ball State is making its 11th straight trip to the MAC Tournament. In its last nine trips, the Cards own a 15-4 record and have made six trips to the championship match, in which they hold a 5-1 record.
However, in the past 17 tournaments, a No. 1 seed has never failed to make it to the championship match. A No. 3 seed has only made it to the title match four times, with only one of those coming away with the win -- Ball State in 1995. BSU upset No. 1 in five games that year.