Muncie, Ind. - - The Ball State softball team claimed its third Mid-American Conference title in four years with a 6-0 shutout of Bowling Green Saturday afternoon at the BSU Softball Complex.
With the win, Ball State (38-13/16-3 MAC) also secured the No. 1 seed in next week's MAC Tournament and will have a double-bye into the second day of the event. Bowling Green falls to 35-19 (15-6 MAC) with the loss and is still in the hunt for the No. 2 seed.
In one of her best outings of the season, senior pitcher Audrey Workman (Wickenburg, Ariz./Yavapai College) limited the Falcons to just three hits over seven innings, while striking out seven batters. With the Cardinals closing in on the title, Workman (16-10) retired the Falcons in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to help BSU lock down the victory.
BSU's championship moment came in spectacular fashion in the top of the seventh, as senior shortstop Alison Mercado (Perris, Calif./Arizona Western College) tracked down a foul fly from BGSU's Emily McClelland to end the game.
With the Falcons holding Ball State's sluggers without a home run for the first time since April 12, it was a heads up base running move from freshman Loren Cihlar (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) that led to the first and what turned out to be the game-winning run.
With one out and Cihlar at first after reaching on an error in the bottom of the second, a soft groundout from Mercado led to the second out. However, Bowling Green failed to cover third on the play and Cihlar took advantage of the miscue to advance two bases. Fellow freshman Taylor Cox (Garden Grove, Calif./Pacifica) followed with a dribbler back to the pitcher for a RBI infield hit.
Ball State would pull ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the third on a two-out RBI double from sophomore first baseman Audrey Bickel (Munster, Ind./Andrean) which plated sophomore first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) who reached base on a fielder's choice. In addition to giving the Cardinals a two-run lead, Bickel's two-bagger also gave BSU a new single-season record for doubles at 94.
The Cardinals then posted four two-out runs on the BSU Softball Complex scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth to take complete control of the momentum. Mercado would single between a pair of strikeouts to give BSU its first base runner. Sophomore designated player Hanne Stuedemann (Mattawan, Mich./Mattawan) would drive the first run of the inning with a double to right center.
After a BGSU pitching change, sophomore left fielder Jennifer Gilbert (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) was hit by a pitch and senior catcher Amanda Montalto (Las Vegas, Nev./Palo Verde) drew a walk to load the bases. Rager would then draw a bases loaded walk to bring home the second run. Bickel picked up two more RBI moments later with a single up the middle to make the score 6-0.
From there, it was all Workman and the BSU defense which nailed down the victory. Bickel would pick up a huge diving grab on a foul fly to end the sixth, while Mercado's spectacular track down ended the game.
Bowling Green's Jamie Kertes (16-11) suffered the loss, surrendering four runs (two earned) and eight hits over 3.2 innings of work.
The Cardinals and Falcons will conclude the 2012 regular season tomorrow with a 1 p.m. first pitch at the BSU Softball Complex. Prior to the start of the game, Ball State will honor its four graduating seniors; Kim Mazzapica (Palm Harbor, Fla./East Lake), Mercado, Montalto and Workman.