'I'm grateful and proud:' No. 6 Ball State falls to No. 1 Miami in MAC Championship title game

<p>The Cardinals gather at the start of the game against Ohio March 16 at First Merchants Bank Ballpark. The Cardinals won 7-5 against the Bobcats. Kate Tilbury, DN</p>

The Cardinals gather at the start of the game against Ohio March 16 at First Merchants Bank Ballpark. The Cardinals won 7-5 against the Bobcats. Kate Tilbury, DN

Jazmyne Armendariz started her collegiate softball career with Ball State in 2019. The graduate student infielder has appeared in 199 games and started in 176 of those. 

She’s seen thousands of innings and outs. She’s heard an umpire make millions of strike and ball calls. She’s had to react countless times when the ball and bat made contact. 

Yet today, all of those moments are in the past as Armendariz and Ball State’s nine other seniors saw their careers come to a close as the No. 6 Cardinals fell to No. 1 Miami in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) title game. 

“I've been telling the girls this was the most fun week of softball I've ever had,” she said. “I'm grateful and proud of the way we finished [the season].”

While the Cardinals (29-29, 12-13 MAC) were defeated in an 8-0 run-rule victory, the most important thing first-year Ball State head coach Helen Peña told her team was to not let one game define this year. 

“It doesn't show the resiliency and just the amazing leadership these seniors have given for the program,” Peña said. “I wanted them to focus on the season as a whole.”

Ball State’s appearance in the title game was the first since the Cardinals won the event in 2015. It’s also the furthest any current Cardinal has made it in the tournament. 

The battle of the redbirds started as a defensive matchup. Then in the third inning, a rain delay paused the game for about 30 minutes. After returning to the field, the Redhawk (48-7, 26-1 MAC) offense caught fire and never looked back. They captured the MAC championship title with a solo-walk-off home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

After the game concluded and the Cardinals left the field, Peña looked back at her first season in Muncie. Over the phone, she was emotional as the memories flooded back. In most of the moments, one thing was common: the 10 seniors. 

“At first you come in and you try to get everything set up. Then you have these amazing people who are so selfless and they just wanted to help any way they could,” she said. “You just fall in love with them as people and you get really excited about what they're going to do in life."

While Armendariz was upset about leaving the sport, the one thing she reflected on the most was the relationships she made with the Cardinals. 

“It has been more than I was expecting,” she said. “We've had a lot of different pieces move in and out. A lot of different coaches move in and out. But there's a core group that stayed the same throughout.” 

While the Cardinals are losing the ‘core group,’ Peña believes the future is bright for the red and black. 

“I think it's gonna motivate us. When you develop the right way and build people up… you're gonna get some amazing outcomes,” she said. “I'm excited about the recruits we have coming in and who we have coming back to continue developing and building a championship culture here.” 

Three Cardinals were selected to the all-tournament team. Those were Armendariz, redshirt sophomore McKenna Mulholland and redshirt junior McKayla Timmons. 

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