Trip to MAC Championship ends with loss

Ypsilanti, Mich. — Ball State’s postseason run, in which it reached its first Mid-American Conference Tournament championship, came to an end Sunday. The sixth seeded team fell to the fourth seeded Western Michigan University 1-0 in a defensive struggle.

Frigid conditions at Scicluna Field — No. 1 seed Eastern Michigan hosted the last two rounds of the tournament — with winds reaching 22 mph made gaining any offensive traction a struggle.

The Cardinals and Broncos combined for five shots on goal, with 2 and 3 respectively, in a game played predominately in the congested middle third of the field.

With a tie at zero by halftime and no shots on goal generated in the first half, Ball State started the second half quickly and launched waves of attacks at Western Michigan.

“I felt like we were in control of the game,” Ball State head coach Craig Roberts said. “We were creating opportunities, it was just about converting them.”

The onslaught to start the second half produced some of Ball State’s best chances to score, and left Roberts and the bench in awe of how the ball didn’t find the back of the net.

Senior Maimee Morris put a one timer on goal that looked destined for the side net, but Western Michigan goalkeeper Michelle Watson, fully stretched, got a hand on the ball to turn it wide.

“I did [think that shot was going in],” Morris said. “We had some real opportunities, you can’t say they were so much better than us.”

The save procured Ball State’s only corner of the match. The corner was deflected and off the scrum, junior forward Jasmine Moses put a ball on goal, but Watson was there to make her second and final save of the day.

In the 62nd minute, Ali Russo scored her third goal of the season — her first two came against Ball State in the regular season — falling on an off balance shot that Russo said she didn’t even know went in until she heard the crowd roar.

Ball State pushed forwards in droves trying to find the equalizer, but each time, a mistimed run or bad touch squandered the opportunity. After the Broncos took to stalling the ball in the corner, the Cardinals mounted one last attack.

MAC All-Freshman Team Leah Mattingly found junior forward Nicole Pembleton alone in the box with 30 seconds remaining in the game. But after Pembleton controlled the ball and tucked it away, the side official’s flag went up to signal offsides before pandemonium on the Ball State side could ensue.

“Sometimes, it goes your way [and] sometimes, it doesn’t,” Roberts said. “Today wasn’t our day.”

The loss caps Ball State’s most successful season in school history, after this year’s senior class and Roberts took over a program that won just four games in 2009. The Cardinals won 11 games — the most since 2007 — and doubled the program’s tournament wins.