After some mid-week Mid-American Conference (MAC) play at home, Ball State is now the No. 1 team in the conference. To do so, they defeated Northern Illinois 2-1.
“We knew what we were capable of,” head coach Lacy Schurr said. “I mean, I don't think our record really reflected how well we were actually playing [during non-conference play]. So now the pieces are starting to come together for us.”
The Cardinals (16-13, 6-2 MAC) kicked off the series with a doubleheader on Tuesday. Game one saw the home squad defeat the Huskies 2-1.
Ball State scored their only runs in the bottom of the second inning. Junior Remmington Ross laid down a bunt that scored one run and moved redshirt junior Samantha-Jo Mata to third. Later in the inning, Mata scored on a wild pitch.
One of the biggest factors in the Cardinals’ win was sophomore starting pitcher Angelina Russo. She threw a complete game with 92 pitches and six strikeouts. It was her second straight complete game in her last two starts.
“They [Northern Illinois] were really aggressive on the bases,” she said. “I knew it was really important to keep them off as much as I could and just get ahead, and defense obviously plays a big factor in that. They helped me make some good plays like turning the double play to finish the game.”
Game two did not start the way Ball State probably hoped for. In the first inning, Northern Illinois (14-14, 5-3 MAC) scored five runs. After changing pitchers, Ball State found a way out of the inning. But the Cardinals were not phased as they returned the favor with multiple hits and walks.
The biggest moment of the inning was when redshirt freshman Aislinn Morris hit a three-run double. This tied the game 5-5. Until the fourth inning, the game was competitive. However, the fifth inning belonged to the Huskies as they scored seven runs.
There was a slight difference between the two games. In game one, Ball State was sharp on defense. But in game two, there were some mistakes like overthrows and dropped balls that plagued the Cardinals.
To Schurr, there are multiple things that the team can learn from the loss.
“You know, I think not trying to do too much,” she said. “The fact that we can play defense, we can play catch with ourselves, and we've got a lot of fight in us. You know, to be able to do what we did and not roll over, in the end, was impressive.”
She was not wrong. The Cardinals were able to score five more runs, but it was not enough as the scoreboard read 14-10 when the lights went out.
The start of the final game was flipped from the Cardinals’ previous defeat. On the second pitch of the game, Russo gave up a solo home run. But she was able to end the inning without any more damage.
When Ball State came up to bat, they didn’t hesitate. After senior Haley Wynn flew out, fifth-year Amaia Daniel hit a single. This extended her streak of safely getting on base to 15 games.
Then redshirt sophomore McKayla Timmons launched a two-run home run. All five of Timmons' homers have been two-run scores.
A few batters later, redshirt freshman McKenna Mulholland drilled a three-run home run to make the score 5-1. To Mulholland, it was important for the Ball State offense to start off early.
“It is so critical against a good team like NIU [Northern Illinois],” she said. “Every run and every inning counts. So coming out in the first inning and scoring more than they did was our main goal for today.”
The 5-1 score would stay until the end of the contest. There were two big reasons for that. One, Russo’s performance on the mound, and two, Timmons’ big day behind the plate.
Russo ended the day with her third straight complete game. She threw 88 pitches and struck out three Huskies. Russo’s performances have been noticed by her teammates. Especially her starting catcher.
“She's having fun and she's dominating,” Timmons said. “So it's awesome to be a part of and I'm honored that I get to catch her because she makes it really fun.”
Speaking of the Timmons, her home run was a key to the win. But her main contribution was her play on defense. She threw out two Huskies that attempted to steal second base. Then she threw out two more that attempted to get a bigger lead-off. It was a change of pace from the previous game.
“I think the big thing for us was that we sat down and we talked about it [game two],” she said. We just came back with a different, better mindset. We didn't really change anything too big. We just played our game today.”
The Cardinals are now in first place in the MAC. But Schurr is not paying attention to that.
“One game at a time,” she said. “You know, we checked our box today, which was NIU and winning the series. And now our focus is the inning that's ahead of us, which is against Ohio. I will say that until the very last weekend because that is what has gotten us here to this point.”
As she mentioned, the Cardinals will travel this weekend to face Ohio in Athens, Ohio. They start the series with a doubleheader on Saturday, April 1. The first pitch for game one is set for 1 p.m.
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZachCarter85.