Semifinal presents redemption chance
For the third time ever — and first since 2007 — Ball State will play in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals. Friday’s match against Miami University marks an accomplishment, but it does not satisfy a team with eyes set on grander goals.
“It’s something you have to celebrate,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “When you work for something, you need to take joy in it, and we are still reveling.”
With just one preseason vote to win the MAC this season, the Cardinals seemed to have an irrational sense of confidence thinking the team could win the conference and garner the automatic NCAA Tournament bid that comes along with it. But then the wins started piling up, reaching double digits for the first time since 2007.
Stats from Oct. 31 game vs. Miami University
22 shots, 2 goals
16 shots, 3 goals
Now after a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over No. 3 seed Central Michigan University in the quarterfinals has Ball State two wins away from being crowned champion. The resiliency Ball State showed against Central Michigan makes the team an even tougher out, Roberts said.
The No. 6 Cardinals are the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, something that Roberts relishes.
“We’re kind of like an obsolete child,” he said with a grin. “But when you win, you get respect, and now I think teams have to take us seriously.”
Ball State dropped its match against Miami 2-3 in a rainy, sloppy match on Halloween. The Cardinals outshot and in many aspects outperformed the RedHawks, and Roberts said one or two mistakes and bad breaks cost the team.
Because of that, Roberts said he expects a similar match with many of the same systems and tendencies on display Friday.
Roberts has settled into a defined rotation, utilizing either speedy wingers or controlling midfielders, after mixing and matching all season. And while he said he is not settled on a starting lineup, he sees the variability as a good problem for him and a burden for Miami.
The last two rounds of the tournament will be played at No. 1 seed Eastern Michigan University’s Scicluna Field, where Ball State was one of just three teams to beat the Eagles on its home field.
To get ready for the grass field and the slower play that comes along with it, Roberts said his team has stepped off the turf of the Briner Sports Complex and practiced on a natural surface this week.
Now in his fourth year, with a program that is full of his players playing his system, Roberts said this is the model for where he wants Ball State to be every year.
“We have a really young team,” he said. “This is just the beginning. We will continue to be a strong program for years.”