'We're in a really, really good spot:' Ball State softball prepares for the MAC Tournament

<p>Graduate student utility Jazmyne Armendari celebrates towards the dugout after hitting a run to second against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Armendari had two RBIs in the game. Andrew Berger, DN</p>

Graduate student utility Jazmyne Armendari celebrates towards the dugout after hitting a run to second against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Armendari had two RBIs in the game. Andrew Berger, DN

For the second straight season, Ball State softball qualified for the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament as they finished the regular season in sixth place in the conference. After doing so this weekend, the mood around Monday’s practice was high. 

There’s a lot of excitement,” graduate student infielder Haley Wynn said. “This is something that only six teams get to experience this year. To be a part of those six is really special, especially for the senior class.”

First-year Cardinals head coach Helen Peña will make her debut at the event after guiding the red and black to a 25-27 overall record and a 12-13 MAC record. 

“There's no quit [in them]. They have fight and they're a fun group,” Peña said. “I think the main thing is that we just continue to develop the physical and the mental aspects.”

While the Cardinals celebrated the achievement, there were moments throughout the season where the goal of reaching the tournament looked astray. An eight-game losing streak from March 17 to  April 6 was one of those tribulations. 

However, the red and black never lost sight of the road as they followed Peña’s motto of ‘culture of care.’ With that in mind and a one-pitch, one-at-bat approach, Ball State rallied to finish the rest of the season with a 10-6 stretch over their last 16 contests. 

That included Sunday’s 5-2 victory over Central Michigan, which clinched a berth into the postseason. 

“We're getting hot at the perfect time,” redshirt sophomore Jessica Hoffman said. “We've had our ups and downs this season, and to be getting uphill right now is a perfect time to be doing so.” 

Hoffman has been one of the underclassmen who has stepped up for Ball State. She currently has the fourth-best batting average (.278) on the team and has the second-most home runs (9). 

Another Cardinal who has led the charge is redshirt junior McKayla Timmons, who leads the team with 23 home runs. That total is currently tied for the program’s season high with former Cardinal Jennifer Gilbert (2013). While the tournament is being held at Akron’s Firestone Stadium – one of the bigger fields in the MAC – Timmon is not focused on the long ball. 

“I don't think about home runs at all,” Timmons said. “Sometimes they're cool, but at the end of the day, that's not my goal. I have to help my team at any moment.” 

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Senior pitcher Francys King catches a ball hit directly toward her against Bowling Green April 13 at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. King gave up six hits in the game. Andrew Berger, DN

While Hoffman and Timmons have been two of Ball State’s biggest contributors, the Cardinals have been led by their 10 seniors. Some standouts from the group are Wynn – who is second with a .320 batting average – and senior pitcher Francys King, who leads with a 3.46 ERA and recently threw the program’s second perfect game. 

“We've got the best senior class in my opinion,” Peña said. “That leadership and that experience has helped us since day one. There's no doubt that's going to trickle down and help us throughout this week.”

When it comes to the tournament, the Cardinals will start the event facing No. 3 Western Michigan Wednesday, May 8 at 2:30 p.m. The Broncos are the only MAC opponent they did not face in the regular season due to a rainout. 

Knowing that, Ball State’s coaching staff has been hard at work. 

“We know when it comes to the pitcher that we're facing, [senior Rissa Bajusz] has a lot of up spin,” Peña said. “Our plan of attack going against her is going to be to see the ball down and stay level.” 

Bajusz leads Western Michigan with a 1.65 ERA and has a 16-11 record on the season. While the Cardinals have not faced her in 2024, they hope their momentum will carry over into the contest. 

“I think we just keep the ball rolling,” Wynn said. “We're in a really, really good spot. We're getting hot at the right time, and that's something that you talk about early in the season. 

“It's not about what you do in the first week of preseason and it's not about once you start the first week of conference. It's about what you did the last week of conference [play].” 

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

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