MUNCIE, Ind. - - The Ball State softball team ended the 2014 regular season in familiar fashion, earning the program’s fifth Mid-American Conference regular season title in six years and clinching the No. 1 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament with an 11-3 (5 inn.) win over Eastern Michigan Sunday afternoon at the BSU Softball Complex.
The Cardinals end the regular season with a 32-17 (12-4 MAC) record and will face eighth-seeded Miami (22-26 / 9-11 MAC) Wednesday at 1:30 pm in the second game of the 2014 MAC Softball Championship at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
“One of our goals from the beginning of the season was to win the MAC title and earn the top seed in the league tournament,” Ball State head coach Tyra Perry said. “I am very excited for the players, the staff and everyone else involved in the program that we were able to achieve this goal. I am especially excited for the seniors, who have meant so much to this program over their careers. However, we all know there is still a lot of hard work ahead of us. We are not satisfied with just the regular season title. We want to make it to the NCAA Tournament. To do that, we are going to have to focus on the week ahead, and play as one unit, one team to win the MAC Tournament.”
Sunday’s victory over the Eagles (13-37 / 4-16 MAC) saw eight of the Cardinals’ nine starters record at least one hit, with freshman catcher Shelbie Scamihorn (Terre Haute, Ind./South Vigo) providing what proved to be the game-winning shot with a two-out, two run single to center field with bases loaded in the third inning.
After the Cardinals fell behind 2-0 in the top of the first, senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) cut the EMU edge in half with a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the frame. It was her 19th home run of the season, and the 75th of her collegiate career. Gilbert would be intentionally walked in her next two at bats, scoring each time, before ending the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth. Gilbert scored three runs on the day, while collecting a pair of RBI.
Ball State managed to tie the score in the bottom of the second inning, thanks to a bases loaded RBI single from sophomore shortstop Selena Reyna (Houston, Texas/South Houston). Senior third baseman Audrey Bickel (Munster, Ind./Andrean) opened the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice from sophomore designated player Sammi Cowger (Fenton, Mich./Fenton). EMU tried to get Bickel out on the play, but was unsuccessful.
With freshman pinch runner Amanda Arnett (Monroe, Mich./Monroe) now in at second, Scamihorn was walked to load the bases. Reyna, who hit a walk-off grand slam in Saturday’s game versus Eastern Michigan, then slashed a single to center field to even the score. Unfortunately, the rally was cut short as a double play and pop up ended the inning.
Eastern Michigan would regain the lead momentarily, thanks to a leadoff home run from Amanda Stanton in the third inning. However, the Cardinals responded with nine unanswered runs to win the game in five innings.
The bottom of the third saw Gilbert draw a one out intentional walk, Bickel draw a two-out walk and Cowger get hit by a pitch to load the bases. After what looked to be a go-ahead double by Scamihorn was wiped out on a foul call, the freshman regained her composure and smashed a two-run single up the middle to give BSU a 4-3 edge.
The Cardinals added five more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take complete control of the contest, and their fate in the race for the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
Sophomore center fielder Briana Evans (Tulsa, Okla./Union) opened the inning with a two-strike bunt single to the catcher, while junior right fielder Loren Cihlar (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) followed with what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt. However, it turned out to be great heads-up play by both BSU players as Cihlar turned it into a single and advanced to second as Evans ran from first to third.
Sophomore second baseman Emily Dabkowski (Plainfield, Ind./South Putnam) wasted little time capitalizing on the speedy play, smashing a two-run double into left-center field to give BSU a 6-3 lead. After Gilbert was intentionally walked for the second consecutive at bat, senior first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) launched a no-doubter over the center field wall to give Ball State a 9-3 advantage. It was Rager’s 10th long ball of the season, and the 38th of her career which move her into a tie for second on Ball State’s career home runs chart.
The Cardinals would go on to close out the game on another heads up running play by Cihlar in the bottom of the fifth, which started similar to the fourth with Evans reaching on an infield single and Cihlar reaching on a bunt single. Dabkowski followed with a RBI single to center field, which plated Evans and allowed Cihlar to move to third and Dabkowski to advance to second on the throw in.
After being intentionally walked in her last two at bats, Gilbert would pop a 3-2 pitch to the second baseman. However, it turned into a game-ending sacrifice fly as Cihlar waited at third and speed home, just beating the throw to the catcher.
In the circle, sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker (Belton, Mo./Belton) picked up the win, improving to 15-5 on the year by limiting the Eagles to three runs (two earned) and six hits over 3.0 innings of work. Classmate Nicole Steinbach (Merrillville, Ind./Andrean) entered the game in relief in the top of the fourth with Ball State holding a 4-3 edge, and held EMU scoreless the rest of the way to pick up her third save of the season. Steinbach allowed just three this in her two innings of work, while adding a strikeout.
For the most up-to-date news on Ball State softball, follow the team on Twitter: @BallStateSB and @TyraPerry13/ Instagram: ballstatesb / Facebook: BallStateSoftball.
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