TEMPE, Ariz. - - The Ball State softball team closed play in the Louisville Slugger Invitational with wins over No. 3 Arizona State (3-0) and Detroit (11-3 / 5 inn) Sunday night at ASU’s Farrington Stadium.
With the two wins, the Cardinals improve to 12-2 this season and have now won eight consecutive games heading into Tuesday’s doubleheader at No. 10 Arizona (18-1). First pitch for the twinbill is set for 4 pm MST (6 pm ET) at the Wildcats’ Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.
For the weekend, the Cardinals finished the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a perfect 5-0 record and were the lone team to go undefeated at the event which also featured; No. 3 Arizona State, No. 19 Minnesota, South Carolina, FIU and Detroit.
“To go 5-0 against the type of competition we saw this weekend speaks volumes about the resolve and determination of this team,” Ball State head coach Tyra Perry said. “Over the course of the tournament we found ourselves in some tough situations, but we stayed calm and focused, which allowed us to come up with some critical plays leading to big wins.”
Over the five games, the Cardinals tallied a .371 team batting average and out-scored the opposition 41-24.
“Overall, I thought our offense played a big role in our success, beginning with the play of Taylor Rager,” Perry added. “Taylor was tremendous throughout the weekend, and even though she had a stretch where she was hitting balls right at people, she stayed calm and confident. I also thought Emily Dabkowski did a tremendous job on both offense and defense.”
GAME 1 RECAP: Ball State 3 – No. 3 Arizona State 0
Behind a dominating performance from sophomore pitcher Nicole Steinbach (Merrillville, Ind./Andrean) and a pair of clutch two-out hits in the top of the seventh inning, the Cardinals upended third-ranked Arizona State by a score of 3-0 Sunday.
Over seven innings of work, Steinbach limited one of the nation’s top offensive teams to only six hits and no runs, marking just the second time the Sun Devils had been shut out in a game over the past two seasons. Steinbach also logged three strikeouts in the game to improve to 4-2 this season.
“The way Nicole preformed throughout the entire weekend was exceptional,” Perry said. “She really attacked batters, which is something we have been working with her on since opening weekend. She showed a lot of confidence in her pitches and her presence on the mound was a catalyst for us this weekend.”
With Steinbach shutting down the ASU offense, the Cardinals finally broke through against the Sun Devils pitching in the top of the seventh inning. Junior catcher Jessica Craft (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) sparked the BSU offense with a one-out single up the middle, while an infield single from sophomore shortstop Selena Reyna (Houston, Texas/South Houston) put a pair of runners on.
After a BSU strikeout for the second out of the inning, junior right fielder Loren Cihlar (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) turned a 1-2 count into a seven-pitch walk to load the bases. Sophomore second baseman Emily Dabkowski (Plainfield, Ind./South Putnam) followed by slicing a RBI single through the left side to drive in what proved to be the game-winning run.
Senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) followed with a two-run single to right field to drive in a pair of insurance runs and give Ball State a 3-0 edge.
Arizona State, led by former Ball State head coach Craig Nicholson, attempted a two-out rally of its own in the bottom of the seventh inning as it loaded the bases after a pair of outs. However, Steinbach forced ASU second baseman Nikki Girard to ground out to her BSU counterpart in Dabkowski to end the game.
Mackenzie Popescue suffered the pitching loss for the Sun Devils, falling to 10-1 on the season after allowing eight hits and three earned runs over seven innings of work.
GAME 2 RECAP: Ball State 11 – Detroit 3 (5 inn.)
The Cardinals were only afforded about 30 minutes to enjoy the win over Arizona State before they had to go back to work versus Detroit, whom they topped 11-3 in five innings.
Ball State home runs were the name of the second game, starting with back-to-back blasts in the opening inning. After Cihlar collected a bunt single to open the game, Dabkowski blasted her third long ball of the season to give Ball State a 2-0 lead. Gilbert followed with her 61st career blast to make the score 3-0.
The Titans would battle back in the top of the third, tying the score at 3-3 thanks in part to a Ball State error.
The Cardinals would reclaim their three-run advantage in the bottom of the third inning, though, starting with a one-out single from Cihlar. Dabkowski, Gilbert and senior first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) would all follow with RBI doubles giving BSU a 6-3 edge.
Ball State closed the game in the bottom of the fifth with a five-run rally. Reyna reached base thanks to a one-out double, while a two-out Detroit error on a fly from Cihlar kept the inning alive and plated Reyna. Dabkowski followed with a RBI double to bring in Cihlar. After a walk to Gilbert, Rager blasted a three-run homer over the left-center field wall to complete the run rule.
Sophomore pitcher/outfielder Sammi Cowger (Fenton, Mich./Fenton) picked up her first career win in the circle, holding the Titans hitless over 2.1 innings of relief work. Cowger also struck out a pair of Detroit batters.