'We know what we need to do:' Ball State softball looks for MAC Tournament berth in final regular season series

<p>Junior utility McKayla Timmons is surrounded by teamates after hitting a home run against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Timmons had three homes runs over the two game series. Andrew Berger, DN</p>

Junior utility McKayla Timmons is surrounded by teamates after hitting a home run against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Timmons had three homes runs over the two game series. Andrew Berger, DN

Staying in the moment. 

It’s the mindset Ball State softball has used throughout the Cardinals 2024 campaign. It’s the same slogan they remembered when the red and black faced Northern Illinois in Tuesday’s doubleheader. 

Yet in the first game, Ball State fell 9-2. In the loss, the Cardinals recorded four hits and gave up four home runs. 

“We showed up and we weren't exactly where we wanted to be mentally and energy-wise,” graduate student Haley Wynn said. “And then after getting beat like that in game one, we all kind of had a reality check.”

After returning to the basics and regaining their composure, the Cardinals defeated Northern Illinois 11-7 to split the two games. Junior Maddie Weaver led the red and black and finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs. 

The win put Ball State as the No. 6 team in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), which means they are in line to play in the MAC Tournament.  

However, their final test of the regular season could make or break a tournament berth. This weekend, Ball State travels to Central Michigan to face the No. 5 Chippewas. 

“We want to make sure that we're preparing right into the weekend,” Ball State head coach Helen Peña said.” “We know what to expect. We know who our opponent is, we know their strengths and we know their weaknesses.”

While the Cardinals are in the spot they need to be, the red and black know their goal is still three games away from being complete. 

“We know what we need to do in order to extend our season,” redshirt sophomore McKenna Mulholland said. “We have got to take this series this weekend. We all know where we stand and I think subconsciously we all know that.”

Yet the accomplishment of making the MAC Tournament isn’t just one for winning the event. The Cardinals are trying to extend their season for their 10 seniors, whose college softball careers are coming to the finish line.  

Because of that, some of the younger Cardinals might have added pressure on their shoulders. It was something the team talked about with their sports psychologist on Wednesday. 

“Collectively, we're doing a good job at navigating that pressure elsewhere and turning it into anxiousness, turning it into being excited and turning into being blessed,” Mulholland said. 

Coming into the series, the Chippewas are 15-29 overall but have a 12-10 record in the MAC. With the Cardinals at 10-12 in the conference, a sweep would bump the Cardinals up, stealing the No. 5 position. 

However, the Cardinals sit in front of Akron, who has a 10-13 MAC record. A slip-up from the red and black might allow the Zips to gain traction. At the end of the day, Ball State’s destiny is in its hands. 

“We just need to show up and play Ball State softball,” Wynn said. “It's emotional and you start to feel all the feels because you know that each game is getting closer [to the end]. You want to leave this program knowing that you gave everything you had for the four to five years you were here and you don't leave with any regrets.”

Whatever happens, the Cardinals’ will continue to use the same motto that Peña told the team on the first day she arrived in Muncie. 

“It has to be. It’s something that I believe in,” Peña said. “It puts more pressure on athletes and coaches, and I learned that as a young coach. We always prep and we feel like we want to be the most prepared staff on the field. 

“We don't want them to think what ifs. We want them to think what can I do in this moment to help my team and that's what I believe is going to help us to be the most successful.” 

The Cardinals will open their final regular season series Saturday, May 4 with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. The weekend’s final game will be played Sunday, May 5, starting at noon. 

Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X @ZachCarter85

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