Cold weather did nothing to diminish the heated competition at the Ball State Softball Complex during the weekend, as the softball team opened Mid-American Conference play against preseason favorite Central Michigan Chippewas.
After winning the first game of Saturday's doubleheader 5-4, the Cardinals (9-10, 1-2 MAC) dropped close decisions in Saturday's second game and Sunday's single game, 1-0 and 3-1, respectively.
Despite losing two games, Cardinal head coach Terri Laux said her team took great steps to dispel the notion that Central Michigan (13-10, 2-1 MAC) is untouchable.
"Overall we're happy with how the weekend turned out,"she said. "If you look at our history in the games we've played against Central, they haven't been as well played as these three have.
"We came out aggressively and I think we've planted a seed where Central is not this big, mystique program anymore. Beating them in the first game was huge. It set a great tone for what we want to do."
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, the Cardinals scored three times to pull off a dramatic victory, with sophomore Kris Burdine driving in sophomore Britni Clark for the game winning run. Junior Cortney Winger, continuing her streak of strong outings, pitched the final two innings and earned her fifth victory of the season.
"Cortney's done an incredible job," Laux said. "She's done everything we've asked her to and she's gone out and proved, time and time again, that she has it back from where she was a few years ago. She keeps us in the game, which is all we ask."
Winger (5-4) said her performance last weekend in Bloomington, which earned her MAC West Pitcher of the Week honors, has done wonders for her confidence.
"Last weekend was a breakthrough for me," she said. "I feel like the coaches have more confidence in me now. I really have faith on the mound and if the other team has runners in scoring position, I have no doubt we're going to get out of there."
In Saturday's second game and Sunday's game, however, the Cardinal bats again slumbered due in large part to the efforts of Chippewa starter Wendy Stephens.
Stephens pitched the full seven innings in both games, giving up 10 hits and one run and shutting down the Cardinals' offensive momentum from the opening game.
Burdine, who continues to hit the ball well and is tied for the team lead in batting average (.356), hits (21), RBIs (8), slugging percentage (.475) and total bases (28), said the offense will hit its stride in time.
"We're struggling, but we're hitting the ball hard as a team," she said. "My hits just keep falling and sooner or later, everyone else's will, too. We're working on trying to be consistent."
The Cardinals are scheduled to return to action Tuesday, in a 2 p.m. doubleheader against IPFW at the Ball State Softball Complex.