Momentum at the beginning of any sporting event is a key part of a team's success, whether it's the first basket scored, first pass thrown or in Ball State University's case, the first pitch.
Within a matter of minutes Tuesday against IPFW, the momentum quickly faded for the Cardinals.
A four-run first inning from IPFW (20-10) pushed the game out of reach early. Ball State's (21-8) lineup did not give in as it made a last inning effort to come back, but it fell short, losing 5-4.
Coach Craig Nicholson could not emphasize enough on the importance of just putting the ball in play.
"The fact that they scored four runs in the first inning was a big part of the game, then we struck out too much," Nicholson said. "We've got the wind hollering around and every ball that's hit in the air is a tough play. And striking out ten times is just not good enough."
Ball State starter Audra Sanders (4-5) struggled early with her command, walking the first batter and giving up two doubles and a two-run home run by Stacey Swinford, making the score 4-0 before any Cardinals batter had a chance to step in the box.
Knowing today was not their best performance at the plate, fighting back and regaining composure was all the Cardinals could do after the early 4-0 deficit.
"I think what we did well was that we battled in there. We tried getting a run across almost every time," senior third baseman Jessie Ware said. "We scrapped it out. I'm not saying we hit the best today, but we got around in the second and fifth innings."
Ware said teamwork has to be a main focus for a team to be successful, as everyone has to work together.
"We didn't play like a team today," she said. "I feel like some people showed up and some others didn't. It takes a team effort, and today I don't think we were all one unit, sadly to say."
Sanders seemed to settle in after the first inning and gained back control of the game. She retired ten batters in a row at one point, a streak that was ended abruptly by Cassie Wolfe's solo shot in the top of the sixth.
"She had a tough first inning, after that she definitely settled down and kept us in the ball game," Nicholson said. "The first inning is when we have to make a couple plays on the ball. Quite obviously, we weren't ready from the first pitch of the game today."
The first run for the Cardinals came in the second inning when Ware led off with her eighth triple of the season, increasing her NCAA-leading total to nine, then scored her 30th run of the year on a sacrifice fly by Amanda Carpenter.
Ball State answered again with a two-out single by Carpenter in the fourth and with a run from Alicia Barkley, making the score 4-2.
The Cardinals continued to fight into the seventh as leadoff pinch hitter, Kate Wilczynski, hit her first home run of the season. After cutting the deficit to 5-4, IPFW's Amanda Olender came in and crushed any hopes of a comeback by picking up her fourth save of the season.
Audra Sanders threw her sixth complete game for the Cardinals, giving up five hits on five earned runs and striking out eight.
Ware went 3-for-3 on the day with two triples and two runs scored.
The next four opponents on Ball State's schedule are conference games, meaning mindsets of the players need to change quickly, according to Nicholson.
"We can't just come out here and put our uniforms on and throw our gloves on and think we're going to beat people — we're not that good," he said. "The big thing is we have to come out and play the way we're capable of playing. That's what we're going to have to do to compete with the MAC teams."