Over the weekend, a new season of Cardinals softball began. Even further, it was the dawn of a new era for the program.
Ball State Softball (2-2, 0-0 MAC) competed in the Southern Illinois Tournament to open its 2021 season. The games marked the start of the new season and the debut of head coach Lacy Wood. Entering the weekend, Wood felt excited and eager to be around the team in a competitive setting for the first time.
“The first day out, the first game, being able to see all of the pieces being put together to compete against another team,” Wood said. “The energy that we were gonna provide competing against another team is really exciting, and to see them all in their uniforms for the first time and see those super seniors who, almost a year ago, thought that their careers were over and they have the opportunity to put that uniform back on again. It was a very unique and exciting energy, getting on the field with those guys.”
Ball State opened tournament play with a 6-5 loss to DePaul. Despite a strong start, the Cardinals could not capitalize in extra-innings to hold off the Blue Demons. Even in the loss, the Cardinals out-hit DePaul 7-3.
Later on Friday, Wood and the Cardinals secured their first win of the season with an 8-1 final over Saint Louis. Unlike the DePaul game, Ball State struggled to find its rhythm early. However, once the Cardinals picked up a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning, they never looked back. Senior catcher Stacy Payton led the team with four RBIs. Payton and senior center fielder Kennedy Wynn each led with two runs scored.
On the mound, sophomore pitcher Deborah Jones earned the victory. As a freshman, Jones finished the season with a Mid-American Conference-best 1.63 ERA. Wood is excited about the progression of Jones and her pitching group as a whole.
The Cardinals once again split two contests on Saturday. In their first game, they completed a 5-2 victory against Austin Peay. Junior designated player Faith Hensley led the team in RBIs with three. Junior pitcher Tieghan Morio picked up the win.
Later in the day, the Cardinals could not replicate their success against Southern Illinois, losing 6-1. Graduate outfielder Haley Dominique was responsible for a single RBI to notch the lone score for the Cardinals.
Their rematch with DePaul scheduled for Sunday was canceled due to weather.
Overall, Wood was pleased with how her players competed in their first game action. She believes the experience of the upperclassmen was on full display throughout the weekend.
“With the upperclassmen leadership, having 10 seniors and super seniors and their experience, it really brings an invaluable persona when you get into games,” Wood said. “You might be trailing by a couple runs here and there, and they have just a quiet confidence that they've been there before. It was really good to see that kind of come out. It shows the grit and tenacity that they're going to have every time they go out.”
According to Wood, the seniors' leadership and experience will play a key role in a season that will feel more different than ever before.
“It's definitely the guiding force,” Wood said. “I think it kind of sets the tone for everybody. I can't say enough about the upperclassmen and their ability, but there's some young kids in the room right now, specifically in the sophomore and junior class. They've been kind of molded and shaped by some of those upperclassmen, so it's going to be exciting to kind of navigate the ups and downs of the season.”
Ball State will travel to Starkville, MS, next weekend for the Mississippi State Tournament. They will play five games, beginning with Western Kentucky on Friday, March 5th at 1:30 p.m.