Heading into their May 7-8 series against the Akron Zips (18-32, 13-16 MAC), Ball State Softball (22-31, 15-14 MAC) still had a chance to get into May 12-14’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament. The top four teams in the MAC are involved in said tournament and the Cardinals sat at fifth.
Ball State had to win all three games against Akron and hope Bowling Green (30-17, 16-11 MAC) lost all three of their games over the weekend. After the Cardinals lost game one of May 7’s doubleheader by a score of 6-0, this scenario was null and void.
The remaining two games of the season were for bragging rights at that point. Ball State proceeded to win the next two games against the Zips 6-3 and 2-0 respectively.
“Going into today [May 8], we knew we had nothing to lose,” Ball State senior shortstop Amaia Daniel said. “Coach told us not to leave without a dirty jersey, so we did just that.”
Ball State Softball head coach Lacy Schurr said hearing Daniel’s comments about taking her battle cry to heart was an example of what the Cardinals are all about.
“It gives me goosebumps to hear that,” Schurr said. “It just means that we're all on the same page and we're all rowing the boat in the right direction.”
Graduate student catcher Delaine Johnson knew after May 7’s game one loss, May 8’s contest would be her last. This season was her final season of eligibility and Johnson said while she wanted to enjoy her final game, she wanted to win just as much.
“Going in and knowing this was going to be our last game, I did want to have fun but I also didn’t want to mess around too much because I knew they [Akron] were in the same position,” Johnson said. “Everyone wants to end their season on a high note.”
While Johnson tried to stay focused on the present, Daniel described May 8’s game as a “soak it in moment.” Although she said she wanted to win as well, she reflected on the season as a whole before, during and after the game.
“You’re soaking in all the moments on the field with your teammates, you’re having fun in the dugout, you’re remembering all the great plays, all the things that were said,” Daniel said. “A lot of people today weren’t really remembering the outcomes, it was just fun memories.”
In the Cardinals' 2-0 victory over the Zips in May 8’s game, Daniel was 2-3 with a double and a RBI. Johnson went 1-5 with one RBI on the weekend. As for Akron, freshman third baseman Lexi Campbell, from Indiana, stood out as she hit 5-11 with 2 RBI on the weekend.
After the weekend’s results were all compiled, the Cardinals finished fifth out of 11 teams in the MAC, just behind Bowling Green. Finishing just shy of a MAC Tournament bid has only driven the Cardinals for next season, as Johnson said she’s heard her now-former teammates talking about next season already, something Daniel backed up.
“Coming up short left a bad taste in all of our mouths and we’re going to come in hungry next year,” Daniel said.
Schurr backed Daniel’s statement up saying this season’s result may not have been the one Ball State wanted, but it’s one that can be built on in seasons to come.
“It definitely gives us a foundation,” Schurr said. “I know the girls are hungry and expect good things out of this program moving forward, not just on the field but in the locker room and with our team culture.”
The Cardinals locker room dynamic was a large talking point post-game, as it was the relationships built between teammates that were said to have helped get Daniel and Johnson through the season. Throughout the 53-game season, Ball State experienced injuries and other troubles that made portions of the season hard to encounter, however, in the end, Daniel said she was proud of how the Cardinals came out.
Schurr said the adversities a team faces don't always turn out the way it did for Ball State, yet she, along with Daniel and Johnson believes the Cardinals came out stronger.
“That doesn't always happen when you're thrown in with a lot of adversity in a season,” Schurr said. “Sometimes it can do one of two things, it can bring you together or pull you apart, and this group has been an entire group on it together and really bought into one another and into getting better.”
Daniel plans on returning to Ball State for her fifth year of eligibility (COVID-19 year) next season, however with this being Johnson’s final game, Schurr had high praise for a consistent starter in Schurr’s first two seasons with Ball State.
“She's always been a gem with her team,” Schurr said. “She's been a rock behind the plate in terms of her ability to manage pitchers. She brings a lot of experience to the table and she's just fun.”
Having played softball for an extended amount of time, Johnson said she’s played on a lot of different teams with different dynamics, however, the relationships she has formed and the bond she has felt at Ball State has been unique.
“It’s crazy the difference it makes,” Johnson said. “I’ve been on teams where we’re really not all friends and now I’m on a team where we’re all best friends. Even if you aren’t having a good day or we’re losing, we’re all having fun and that’s kind of the end goal.”