'We have momentum on our side:' Ball State softball advances to MAC Tournament after defeating Central Michigan

<p>Graduate student infeilder Samantha-Jo Mata yells for a strike against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Mata had six put-outs in the field. Andrew Berger, DN</p>

Graduate student infeilder Samantha-Jo Mata yells for a strike against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Mata had six put-outs in the field. Andrew Berger, DN

When Ball State softball arrived to face Central Michigan, the goal of reaching the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament was the only goal the Cardinals had on their minds. 

Once they stepped onto the field at Margo Jonker Stadium Saturday afternoon for their final regular season series, the emotions hit them. 

“This could have been the last weekend for 10 of our softball careers,” Ball State graduate student Haley Wynn said. “That's something none of us took lightly.” 

After defeating the Chippewas with a 2-1 series victory, the Cardinals clinched their spot in the conference tournament.

“We have momentum on our side,” Ball State head coach Helen Peña said. “...We're getting hot at the right time and that's what it's all about.” 

Saturday

While the energy was high and the plan was simple, the Cardinals (25-27, 12-13 MAC) dropped game one of Saturday’s doubleheader. While both offenses recorded eight hits, the difference was who could score baserunners. 

The Chippewas (16-30, 13-11 MAC) didn’t seem to have an issue with that – scoring three runs in the first inning – but he Cardinals struggled to move their runners. 

While Ball State made adjustments and trailed 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning, the issue continued as the Cardinals left the bases loaded and were defeated. 

Between contests, the red and black knew they needed the next two games. Taking the circle for the second game was senior starting pitcher Francys King. Her mindset was clear. 

“It was just one batter at a time and not making [the moment] too big,” she said.

With that attitude, King never lost her touch as she threw the second perfect game – 55 pitches, zero hits, zero runs, zero errors, zero walks, three strikeouts – in program history. The other Cardinals never said a word to their starter throughout the game. 

“It was a rule because you don't speak about it,” King said. “A lot of my teammates came up to me after the game [because]they had no idea I was perfect.” 

To Peña, King’s ability to stay consistent with her pitches was the No. 1 factor in the achievement.

“She was getting ahead of batters and expanding the zone,” Peña said. “They had to hit her best stuff, and that was clearly hard for them to do.”

Behind King was the Cardinals’ offense, which could not be stopped as they defeated the Chippewas 8-0. In the win, the red and black knocked 10 hits, which included a solo shot from redshirt junior McKayla Timmons in the first inning. 

Wynn, Timmons, redshirt sophomore McKenna Mulholland and junior Maddie Weaver led the Cardinals with two hits. 

Sunday

After splitting the doubleheader, Sunday’s contest became the decider for Ball State’s chances of making the MAC Tournament. Peña and her staff went to work before they went to bed and after they woke. 

"You look at all of it, right? We knew what we were going to see,” Peña said. “What are we missing? Can we jump on them early? We didn’t want to feel like we could have done more.” 

Her questions were answered when the Cardinals took the field against the Chippewas. In the first inning, Ball State scored two – RBI singles by Weaver and redshirt sophomore Jessica Hoffman – to give the red and black an early advantage. 

In the bottom of the third, Timmons scored on a wild pitch, Mulholland hit a sacrifice fly and Hoffman launched a solo home run. The performance by Ball State’s offense helped the Cardinals take the game 5-2, which locked them in for a trip to xxx, the site of the MAC Tournament. 

Peña believes their performance over the weekend is because of the effort the Cardinals have had throughout the 2024 campaign. 

“It wasn't about the first week and it wasn't about the fifth weekend,” Peña said. “It was about building to this moment and it's about building momentum at the right time.” 

Ball State will play in the MAC Tournament, which is hosted at Akron's Firestone Stadium. The event starts May 8 and will end on May 11. Game times and opponents are to be announced. 

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

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