Another perfect season at home for the Ball State women's volleyball team wasn't enough to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
After going 10-0 at Worthen Arena and improving their home-court winning streak to 41 matches, the No. 3 seed Cardinals (21-9) were beaten 3-0 by No. 1 Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Saturday in Dekalb, Ill.
BSU lost the first game 30-26 and trailed 7-1 in game 2 before rallying to take a 26-30, 30-28, 30-24, 30-24 win.
Seniors Megan Hammons and Susie Meshberger led Ball State with 17 kills each, while senior Julie Zylka totaled 15, and junior Katie Butts smashed 14. Hammons led the defense with 16 digs, while freshman Stephanie Keller dug a career high 15.
Following the victory, the Cardinals prepared for Friday night's semifinal match-up against No. 2 Bowling Green. Northern Illinois, 3-0 winners over Toledo in the quarters, took on Miami.
Led by a career-high 31 kills from Hammons, the Cards managed to defeat the Falcons 3-2 in a thriller which saw Ball State survive five match points in the fourth game.
"I think it was desperation," Hammons said. "We knew in that game, we either win, or our season is over. Nobody wanted that."
After losing the first game 30-28, Ball State responded with a 30-22 game 2 victory, but fell 30-25 in the third game.
The Falcons held a 31-30 lead in the fourth game before a kill from Meshberger tied the score. However, an attack error on Meshberger gave the Falcons their second match point.
But on the next play, Hammons provided a monstrous kill to tie it yet again at 32. Ball State lost the next point on a long rally, but Hammons came through with a kill to tie it at 33.
At 35-35, Bowling Green committed a hitting error to give the Cards game point at 36-35. Another error on the Falcons gave BSU the game, tying the match at two.
In the fifth and final game, Ball State held a 7-2 lead before the Falcons caught fire and went on a 9-1 run to make it 11-8. But Ball State won nine of the next 13 points to close out the Falcons with a fifth-game 17-15 win.
"I have to give Bowling Green a ton of credit," BSU head coach Randy Litchfield said. "They were extremely tough tonight. I think what you saw in game 5 and us leading 7-2 were six Bowling Green seniors who didn't want their season to end. On our side of the court, we also had some seniors who didn't want their season to end. It was a great match."
The win set the championship match against the Huskies Saturday night. It was the third-straight year the Cards have made it to the MAC Championship match. However, the Huskies took advantage of the hometown crowd, easily knocking off the Cards 30-21, 30-17, 30-24 to advance to the NCAA Tournament next week.
"It seems the bigger the match, the lower our emotional and energy level," Litchfield said. "Outside of the NCAA Tournament, we have been a real bad, big-match team, and that's on me. It's my job to get that figured out, and I didn't. Tonight we ran into a buzzsaw on the other side of the net. Northern was jacked up and ready to play, and you see the result."
Ball State was within two points of Northern in game 1 with the score at 6-4, but the Huskies rallied to a 20-12 lead. The Cards wouldn't get closer than six the rest of the game.
The Cardinals hit -.056 in the second game in the midst of the 30-17 defeat.
Hammons finished with just four kills a night after putting up 31. Butts led the team with nine kills and Zylka had eight.
The NCAA Selection Show is set for 3 p.m. today. Last year, the Cardinals received an at-large bid to enter the tournament after falling to Western Michigan in the MAC Championship.