For the second consecutive year, the Ball State softball team entered the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
Much like last season, the Cardinals fell short of their tournament expectations in 2013.
It was a first round loss to Northern Illinois that pushed the Cardinals into the loser’s portion of the double elimination bracket.
The No. 4 Huskies defeated Ball State in a manner that few had been able to in the regular season. The Huskies shut down the dominant Cardinals’ offense in a 3-1 win.
The 12 MAC coaches voted Ball State as preseason favorites to win both the 2013 MAC West Division title and the 2013 MAC Tournament.
The Cardinals followed through on the regular season expectations behind the play of their high-powered offense.
The Ball State offense entered the tournament ranked 27th in the nation with its MAC-leading .312 team batting average. Power-hitter Jennifer Gilbert ranked fourth among all NCAA Division I players with 65 RBI this season.
Coach Craig Nicholson said based on the team’s ranking, they had a chance to advance deep into the bracket.
“In the long haul of the regular season, the team that wins the title is typically the best team,” he said.
It felt all too similar to last season as the team entered the tournament with more than just a No. 1 ranking. The Cardinals outscored opponents all season as they worked their way to a 35-15 overall record and an 18-3 mark in the MAC.
Last year the Cardinals fell to Western Michigan in their tournament opener. From there the team won one game in the loser’s bracket before falling to No. 2 overall Miami.
In this year’s tournament bracket the team bounced back from its first-round loss with a huge surge, something Nicholson believed spoke to the strengths of his team.
“I think it’s kind of the same thing we’ve seen all year long with this team. That resiliency and that ability to keep fighting,” Nicholson said. “I’m not surprised that after losing that first game we bounced back and played really well in a couple games.”
After being held to just one run by the Huskies, the Cardinals bounced back against Toledo for a 10-0 victory.
Freshman pitcher Kelsey Schifferdecker pitched the complete shutout game. Gilbert notched one hit and two RBIs in the elimination game.
Junior Taylor Rager went 2-for-4 in the game as she registered two RBIs. Her strong performance would continue in the team’s next game.
Ball State jumped out to an early 4-1 lead over the No. 6 Ohio Bobcats. Rager drilled a first-inning grand slam to get things going. Gilbert added a solo home run in the game, moving her season total to 23 – increasing her Ball State single-season record.
After five innings the Cardinals led 6-3, but Ohio would rally in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game at 6-6 heading into the seventh.
After Schifferdecker held the Bobcats scoreless in the top of the seventh inning, the stage was set for Rager. Her huge walk-off RBI triple would give Ball State the win.
The Cardinals advanced to play Northern Illinois for a second time. Ball State was able to keep the score close but fell short of the Huskies in a 3-2 game.
Nicholson said the tournament run was exciting, but still not what the team had hoped for.
“I’m proud of the way our team competed over the course of the regular season, and this weekend as well, but obviously we’re a little disappointed with that,” he said. “In the tournament, anything can happen. I felt like going in, any of the top four teams had a shot to win it; that’s kind of the nature of the beast.”