The Ball State softball team clinched the 2013 Mid-American Conference regular season Championship in front of its home crowd on Friday. It is the program’s fourth regular season title in five years.
The Cardinals swept a doubleheader versus Buffalo, improving their overall record to 34-14 (17-2 MAC). The pair of victories capped off an exciting run at the MAC title, something that head coach Craig Nicholson was relieved to attain.
“We wanted to get it wrapped up today,” Nicholson said. “The big thing is just trying to keep the pressure off on the weekend.”
Ball State is set to host Kent State in a two-game series, with single games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The Golden Flashes were the only team contesting Ball State for the MAC title. A loss to Buffalo would have meant a highly-competitive series with Kent State.
Instead, the early clinch gives players a chance to rest before heading into the MAC tournament. The time off could be a determining factor in the length of Ball State’s tournament run.
The team has seen a decline in offensive production over the last three games. The Cardinals hold a MAC-best .315 batting average on the season.
In two games leading up to Friday’s doubleheader, though, Ball State posted averages of just .263 and .207, respectively. The Cardinals were able to seal the pair of victories against Buffalo, but they did not come as a result of strong offense.
“For whatever reason, we've hit a little bit of a lull right here,” Nicholson said. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before and come out of it. We've still got the same good hitters that we've had, they've just struggled a little bit.”
The team’s best hitter, Jennifer Gilbert, has been no exception. Coming into the week, she led the nation with a 1.37 RBI-per-game average. She ranked fourth nationally in home runs per game, fifth in slugging percentage and tenth in batting average.
In Friday’s doubleheader Gilbert made five trips to the plate, but recorded just one hit. She is ready for the postseason, though, and says that she isn't worried about her recent slump.
For now, it’s all about the MAC Championship.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to come back and win it for the second year in a row,” Gilbert said. “That’s hard to do for any team.”