Aeshia Miles pitches to Kent State in the top of the third inning during the Cardinals' game against the Golden Eagles April 7 at Softball Field at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Eric Pritchett, DN
Hot starts head Ball State Softball's series sweep over Akron
If you take the first inning out of both of the Cardinals' double header games against Akron, Ball State would still hold both wins at 2-1 and 6-1.
However, adding that first inning back changes the pace and result of both games in a big way. Ball State Softball (25-10, 3-0 MAC) proved to be the dominate team from start to finish in their double header against Akron (6-14-2, 0-3 MAC), picking up 13-1 and 9-1 wins over the Zips on Saturday.
Specifically in the first game, the Cardinals turned it on as soon as they were up to bat. 11 runs were scored in the first inning, highlighted by a home run from freshman Trinity Eckerty, putting Ball State in a comfortable lead throughout the game and the day. The early start not only helped the Cardinals at bat, but inside the circle as well.
"It's really nice off the bat to have a lead, especially going out pitching," freshman pitcher Sarah Venker said. "Pitching with a 5-0 lead is nice than pitching from behind or at 0-0. It's just an extra boost of confidence."
In the second matchup, the team held a narrow 3-0 lead early before taking off once again for a grand total of nine runs. While the first game saw more runs early, the adjustments made in that second game stood out more to the team.
"We kind of switched up the middle of the line up in about the fourth inning," head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett said. "The top of the line up was getting on base and the bottom was doing good table setting, and we couldn't seem to put together a solid at bat. We made a couple of changes in the lineup and we had a little bit of a better execution."
Not only were that bats hot, but the majority of the roster saw time at the plate. 12 different Cardinals stepped up to connect 18 times for 22 runs. Bartlett said that their depth at the plate can be used as a weapon.
"You constantly have to be locked in, focused and know that the person next to you is going to do just as good of a job," Bartlett said. "It takes a group of kids that care about each other and believe in each other. This group of kids thrive and believe in this culture. They support one another."
In the aspect of depth, the Cardinals have had a strong freshman showing this season. Freshman Amaia Daniel had another strong weekend, with an RBI of four in the first game and brought in two more runs in the second game. Last weekend in Georgia, the freshman knocked the ball over the fence three different times.
"I was seeing the ball out front and it was looking big today," Daniel said. "I was just hitting the ball really well and it felt nice."
In the circle, Venker continues to roll as she picked up her 12th win of the season, leading the Ball State pitching unit. She struck out two allowing one hit over four innings. Venker said one of the keys to her performance is the strong backfield behind her.
"They've been so strong and there's been a lot of improvement since weekend one," Venker said. "Every time a ball is hit I'm super confidant that someone is going to get it and we're going to get that out."
A confidence boosting series win to open up Mid-American Conference play hands Ball State its 14th win in 15 games and is off to their hottest start since 2013. The Cardinals will face their first MAC challenge of the season in Kent State, who was predicted to be the conference runner up behind Ball State in the regular season and conference tournament.
"This was a great way to start MAC play, but we know we're heading into an incredibly tough weekend," Bartlett said. "They [Kent State] are going to be a top three finisher in the conference. They have two dynamic pitchers on the mound, they hit well and they defend well...We're going to have to bring our A-game on each side of the ball. It's going to be a tough challenge, but we're up to it."