One year after missing the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament by one spot, Ball State softball is heading to Miami University (Oxford, OH) for this year's edition of the conference tournament. It will also be head coach Lacy Schurr’s first time coaching in the tournament.
“It feels really good [to go],” Ball State head coach Lacy Schurr said. “The standard at this university is competing for a conference championship every year. So getting back to that position just says a lot about where we're at right now.”
The Cardinals finished the 2023 campaign with a 27-24 record. They went 17-12 in the MAC which set them up to clinch the fourth spot in the conference.
Besides fifth-year Amaia Daniel and senior Jazmyne Armendariz, no other Cardinal on the roster has made the postseason.
“I'm honestly just excited because it's one thing that not every team gets to experience,” senior Haley Wynn said. “Only four teams get to do it and I'm very grateful that we are one of those four teams. You just go out there and you live the moment because this is your goal to get there.”
But one thing that needs to be understood is that the Cardinals almost didn’t get the opportunity. While Ball State had many high points throughout the season, there were some lows. As of April 12, the Cardinals were in a rough patch. They had lost three MAC series in a row.
But after some lineup and position changes, the Cardinals started to shine. They would finish the season 9-3, which would be enough to make the tournament.
“ I think [the mid-season slump] just motivated us more because we knew that this was a team goal ever since we stepped on campus,” Wynn said. “Ever since your freshman year when you stepped on campus, this is your goal. It forced us to take one thing at a time, which actually helped us be really successful.”
Before finishing the regular season, the Cardinals needed one more thing to clinch a tournament berth. Akron, who is now the No. 5 team in the conference, was hoping to spoil the Cardinals' tournament plans. But after Ball State took the 2-1 series win, they were in.
In the final game of the series, redshirt freshman Mckenna Mulholland would have one of her best outings of the season. She went four-for-four with three RBIs, which she was rewarded as the MAC player of the week.
“Going into that weekend [against Akron], I knew it was important,” Mulholland said. “I knew how much the series was going to be. The only thing I was thinking about in all of my bats was just attack the pitch. They don't want to walk, they all want to come after me… I just knew that I wanted to beat every single pitcher, every single pitch, every single play.”
With the Cardinals having a younger roster, some may wonder if the players are nervous. But Mulholland believes that is in the back of their minds.
“I will say I had a lot of nerves going into the season,” she said. “But after playing with all these girls, it’s my best friends I'm playing next to. Everybody kind of knows how to talk to one another and call each other down when we're getting nervous, anxious, or maybe too excited. But I definitely think nerves aren't a concern right now. I think we're all just kind of glued together on and off the field.”
Even though they are going to the tournament, they have their work cut out for them as they will face Miami, the No. 1 seed, in their first game. In their regular season, they lost the series 2-1. Schurr believes that is in the past.
You know, [against] Miami, we came in with a much better game plan on day two,” Schurr said. “A team like that, you know, you gotta be near perfect on defense. And so [I’m] looking forward to the opportunity of seeing them again, and having a little bit better game plan against them.”
The Cardinals will leave for Miami on Wednesday morning. Their first game is set for Thursday, May 11, with first pitch at 3:30 p.m.