MUNCIE, Ind. – The Ball State softball team captured its fourth Mid-American Conference regular season title in five years with a doubleheader sweep of Buffalo Friday afternoon at the BSU Softball Complex.
With a two-and-a-half game lead in the MAC standings heading into Friday’s twin bill, the Cardinals needed two wins to clinch the regular season title and came through with just that.
With the sweep, Ball State improves to 34-14 on the season and clinches the 2013 Mid-American Conference regular season championship with a 17-2 league mark. Buffalo falls to 15-31 (5-13 MAC) with the two loses.
Kent State, who trailed the Cardinals in the MAC race also swept its doubleheader at Miami today to improve to 26-18-1 (15-5 MAC), but cannot catch the Cardinals with just two games remaining in the league season.
In the opener, the Cardinals scored a pair of runs in the first inning thanks to a two-run single from junior third baseman Audrey Bickel and held on to win 3-2.
In the nightcap, Ball State rallied from down 2-0 for a 5-3 victory aided by a three-run home run from junior first baseman Taylor Rager.
The Ball State softball team closes the regular season with single games versus Kent State Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at the BSU Softball Complex. Sunday’s game will serve as senior day, with Ball State recognizing five members of its squad: Amanda Carpenter, Julie Cortez, Sadie Robertson, Audra Sanders and Lauren Williamson.
GAME ONE RECAP: Ball State 3 – Buffalo 2
After holding the Bulls off the board in the top of the first inning, the Cardinals pulled out to an early 2-0 edge in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore designated player Loren Cihlar opened the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a one-out single from junior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert.
After a walk to Rager loaded the bases, and a fielder’s choice from Carpenter kept the bases loaded as Buffalo recorded an out on the lead runner. Bickel would then come through with a two-run single to give BSU the lead for good in the contest.
Buffalo cut the BSU lead in half in the top of the second on a two-out single from Jessica Griffin which was followed by a RBI double from Dani Cowan.
However, Ball State reclaimed the two-run advantage in the bottom of the inning as a two-out RBI single from sophomore right fielder Hanne Stuedemann drove in sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox who reached on a one-out bunt single.
The Bulls would get their final run of the contest in the top of the third as an inning-opening BSU error and a two-out double from Alyssa Ward made the score 3-2.
From there, freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach shut down the Buffalo offense, allowing just one hit the rest of the game, including retiring the final 10 Bulls batters she faced.
In improving to 14-8 on the season, Steinbach limited the UB offense to just five hits and two runs (one earned) over seven innings. She also struck out five batters and did not issue a walk.
Cowan suffered the loss in the circle for Buffalo, falling to 0-9 on the year after giving up eight hits and three runs over six innings of work. She would strikeout four batters while walking three.
GAME TWO RECAP: Ball State 5 – Buffalo 3
Buffalo came out strong in the second game, capitalizing on a leadoff BSU error to plate a pair of unearned runs in the first frame. Ward started the scoring with a RBI squeeze bunt, while a RBI fielder’s choice from Holly Luciano brought home the second run.
Ball State would cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second thanks to a leadoff double from Rager followed by a one-out RBI double from Bickel.
The Cardinals took the lead for good in the bottom of the third with the help of Rager’s 10th home run of the season. A one-out infield single from Cihlar started the rally, while Stuedemann drew a walk to give BSU two runners. Following the team’s second out, Rager blasted a three-run shot over the right field wall to give Ball State a 4-2 edge.
Buffalo would get one run back in the top of the fourth thanks to the help of another BSU error, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Ball State answered back with the game’s final run in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a RBI groundout from junior pinch hitter Lauren Schroeder. Bickel walked to open the inning and was replaced by junior pinch runner Julie Cortez. Cortez advanced to third on a double from senior catcher Sadie Robertson and scored two batters later on Schroeder’s groundout to short giving BSU a 5-3 edge.
The Cardinals’ biggest play of the day on defense came in the top of the seventh following a leadoff double from Alexis Curtiss. With no outs and a runner at second, Cox would track down a Luciano pop fly towards the right field line and throw out pinch runner Kenzie Koch trying to advance to third for Ball State’s league-leading 29th double play of the season.
Carpenter followed with a catch in center field to end the game and give Ball State its fourth MAC title over the last five seasons.
Senior relief pitcher Audra Sanders took control over the final three innings, holding Buffalo to just two hits and a pair of walks to pick up her second save of the season.
Freshman pitcher Kelsey Schifferdecker earned the win, improving to 13-4 by limiting the Bulls to seven hits and three unearned runs over four innings of work. She would also strikeout a pair of batters.
Cowan would suffer her second loss of the day in the circle for Buffalo, falling to 0-10 after giving up four hits and four runs over 2.2 innings.