Cards 'fired up' for shot at MAC West crown

Winner of game clinches regular season title, No. 1 seed for tournament.

Never before has the women's basketball team been in the situation to win a Mid-American Conference title.

In the program's 27-year history, the quest for a title has been met with nothing but failure. That could change tonight, as the Cardinals face the defending MAC Champions, the University of Toledo Rockets.

The Cardinals (20-6 overall, 12-3 MAC) and the Rockets (17-9, 12-3) are tied for first place in the MAC West, and whichever team wins clinches the title.

"They have what we want," head coach Tracy Roller said. "They won the MAC last year, they reached the NCAAs. That's the goal we've been striving for all season. All I have to say is 'Toledo' and we're fired up."

In the teams' first meeting, the Cardinals defeated the Rockets in front of more than 4,000 fans, a Ball State record for attendance in Worthen Arena. At Toledo, the Cardinals face one of the strongest women's fan bases in the MAC as Toledo has the highest home attendance average in the league.

"We've played in these situations before this year," Roller said. "We're used to big crowds now. We went to (No. 1) UConn and played there (in front of more than 10,000). We've had big crowds all year at home. We're kind of used to it."

Nonetheless, the Cardinals have built a reputation for being a "pretty" team not able to win big games.

Evidence showed last season when the team lost in its first game of the MAC Tournament after getting the first-round bye. Plus, the team has struggled in close games as four of the team's six losses have come in games decided by 10 points or less.

Roller said she does not question the team's mental readiness, and she said she knows they will come ready to play. But for freshman Kate Endress - a candidate for MAC Freshman of the Year - she has not faced a tough game like this yet in her college career.

"This is without a doubt the biggest game of my career," Endress said. "I've had big games in high school. I've just got to relax and let the game come."

Toledo brings one of the best post players in the league - Melantha Herron, who scored 17 points against the Cardinals in their previous meeting. Defending against strong post-play teams has been a struggle for the perimeter-oriented Cardinals.

"I wouldn't call it 'do or die,'" Bowie said. "It's just another win or another loss ... just another game.

"We know what's at stake going in. As much as we want to win, it's our focus. We've just know what we've got to do. We've got to go out and do it."


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