As Ball State head coach Brady Sallee entered the locker room following No. 5 seed Ball State Women’s Basketball’s (21-11, 12-8 MAC) 71-66 win against No. 1 seed Toledo (26-5, 20-2 MAC) March 11, he was ambushed.
The Cardinals turned the room into a frenzy, splashing water bottles and screaming in joy after clinching their first Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship berth since 2014.
“When I walked in, I got absolutely attacked with water bottles,” Sallee said. “They were pretty jacked.”
Prior to their matchup in the semifinals, the Rockets swept Ball State in the regular season. Sallee said this victory is important but the Cardinals remain focused on what lies ahead.
“We got focused pretty quick because we have one more and this team is hell-bent on cutting down those nets tomorrow,” Sallee said. “For me, right now it’s business as usual. The process has gotten us here and you have to stay focused on the process, or it can get away from you.”
Freshman Ally Becki started the game off with a 3-point shot and Sallee said this shot from Becki helped ease the tension for the Cardinals.
“I think the way we started the game was really important,” Sallee said. “When Ally hit that three I think we all kind of calmed down.”
Becki finished with 12 points, six assists and six rebounds. Freshman Marie Kiefer scored 12 points in 17 minutes. Sallee said he wasn’t surprised when he saw the Becki and Kiefer pacing the Cardinals and is excited for what they've accomplished as freshmen.
“Before we went into the press conference, I had both freshmen with me and I asked, ‘Hey, you guys want to do this three more years,’” Sallee said. “Add in Madelyn [Bischoff] and this trio of kids is special.”
Junior Sydney Freeman led the Cardinals with 19 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. Sallee said Freeman excelled as a leader against Toledo.
“Ally got in foul trouble and Estel [Puiggros] went down and Sydney put the team on her shoulders for a little bit,” Sallee said. “You can’t talk enough about how big Sydney Freeman was in this game.”
Junior Estel Puiggros suffered an injury in the second quarter and did not return. Puiggros tore her ACL as a freshman, and while Sallee doesn't know the extent of the injury, he said it's unlikely Puiggros returns this postseason. Sallee said the injury will provide motivation for Ball State.
“Our purpose just got bigger,” Sallee said. “We’ll play with her and Anna [Clephane] in our hearts.”
Toledo junior guard Sophia Wiard finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard/forward Quinesha Lockett added 14 points.
Throughout this season, Sallee said his biggest takeaway has been the Cardinals' effort and willingness to win. Sallee said Ball State will leave it all on the floor tomorrow no matter the outcome.
“The one thing I know about this team is there will be nothing left in the gas tank around 1:15 tomorrow,” Sallee said.
Ball State returns to action in the MAC Championship March 12 against No. 2 seed Buffalo (24-8, 18-4 MAC). Tipoff is 11 a.m.