After sweeping back-to-back Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponents, Ball State softball fell in a mid-week series against Miami.
A big reason for that was the Redhawks' starting pitcher: Brianna Pratt.
“She's a great pitcher and she held us down,” head coach Lacy Schurr said. “They [Miami] wanted to make sure to do the best that they could to secure the series.”
In the first game of the series, Miami’s ace was at her best. After she gave up five hits and had nine strikeouts, the Redhawks (29-17, 16-7 MAC) defeated the Cardinals 6-0.
One note that could have been a positive for the Cardinals (25-23, 15-11 MAC) was fifth-year Amaia Daniel’s appearance in the lineup as a designated hitter. But after striking out twice, she had a limp when walking to the dugout and would miss the remainder of the series.
“[Amaia’s injury] is still day to day,” Schurr said. “I think she's getting a little bit better every day. You know, just seeing what it feels like when she comes out to the park.”
The only Cardinal that finished with more than one hit was senior Haley Wynn with a single and a double.
In Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Cardinals split games with the Redhawks. In the first game, Ball State fell 4-3.
Once again, Pratt was called on the mound for Miami and she picked up where she left off. While the Cardinals went through three pitchers, Pratt remained on the mound for the entire game.
But this time, Ball State found ways to score runners. One Cardinal that stood up to Pratt was redshirt-freshman McKenna Mulholland. She finished the game with two hits and an RBI.
“We knew that she was a heavy drop ball pitcher,” Mulholland said. “We knew her ball was going down. So we kind of switched up our mindset a little bit, trying to see the backside of the ball and that's kind of what we did. I did… a little slash thing. It just helped me stay low and helped me stay through the ball.”
Even though the Cardinals were able to keep a one-run deficit, they could not get over the hump as they lost the series.
One Cardinal that struggled was Wynn. Even though she found success against Pratt in the previous game, she went 0-4 to start the doubleheader.
“I just wasn't seeing the ball as well honestly,” Wynn said. “But I was still sticking to my plan and I knew eventually the ball was gonna fall and something was gonna connect.”
But in game two, the Cardinals responded. They completed the run rule as they defeated Miami 10-0.
“Definitely a confidence booster as we go into Akron,” Schurr said. “We got to take care of business against Akron this weekend. [This win] gives us a little bit of momentum and we know that we can execute when we need to execute.”
When she mentions execution, she is spot on. The Cardinals ended the game with five hits. But the most impressive stat was the 10 RBIs. Redshirt sophomore McKayla Timmons finished with three RBI’s and she collected her eleventh home run of the season with a two-run bomb.
Wynn said she knew she would connect, and she did. She ended the win with one hit, which was a bases-clearing double. She believes that this game could be a preview of what’s to come.
“I think we talked about it like all the time, beat Miami beat Miami,” she said. “So this was just huge and it gives a huge momentum booster to take us into the last conference game. Now it's like what's wrong with it? Let's go to the tournament. Let's run the tournament. Let's keep going.”
After the loss, the Redhawks fell to second place in the MAC while the Cardinals remain in fourth place in the conference. Even though Schurr doesn’t want to look at the standings, she knows how important this is to the Cardinals and their season.
“Our message to them has always been… you don’t let the moment get any bigger than what it is,” Schurr said. “It's still, you know, one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time.”
With the implications this weekend, Cardinal fans might wonder if the team is nervous. But Mulholland put that thought to bed.
“This team is so gritty,” she said. “We have everything in our tank and you best bet that we're gonna leave everything out on the field. This team is special and we will go down to the last inning. Every out, every pitch counts, and that's what we're going to bring to Akron this weekend.”
The Cardinals will try to gain more ground in conference play as they face Akron (25-20, 13-10 MAC), who sits behind Ball State in the conference. They will play a doubleheader on Saturday, April 29, and finish the series with a single game on Sunday, April 30.
Saturday’s first pitch of game one is set for 1 p.m.