AKRON, Ohio - - The Ball State softball team was heavily rewarded for its 2014 Mid-American Conference regular season title run, claiming two of the league’s five specialty awards, a program-record five first-team selections and a league-high eight total honors as announced by the MAC office Tuesday.
Highlighting the list of award winners were 2014 MAC Player of the Year Jennifer Gilbert (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) and 2014 MAC Coach of the Year Tyra Perry. Gilbert became the league’s first three-time MAC Player of the Year, and one of only 11 players in NCAA Division I history to earn their conference player of the year award three times.
Gilbert, the team’s starting left fielder, was also named to the All-MAC First Team for the third straight year. Joining Gilbert on the All-MAC First Team were senior first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern), senior third baseman Audrey Bickel (Munster, Ind./Andrean), sophomore center fielder Briana Evans (Tulsa, Okla./Union) and sophomore utility player Sammi Cowger (Fenton, Mich./Fenton).
Ball State’s five first-team selections were the most in program history, topping the previous mark of four in 2009. It also marks just the third time in league history five players from the same squad have earned first-team honors, joining Kent State (2007) and Central Michigan (1996).
Rounding out Ball State’s award winners was sophomore pitcher Nicole Steinbach (Merrillville, Ind./Andrean) who was named to the All-MAC Second Team for the season straight season.
Thanks to its third consecutive league title, and fifth in the past six seasons, Ball State will open play in the 2014 MAC Softball Championship as the No. 1 seed and will play No. 8 Miami Wednesday in the 1:30 p.m. game at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
For the most up-to-date news on Ball State softball, follow the team on Twitter: @BallStateSB and @TyraPerry13/ Instagram: ballstatesb / Facebook: BallStateSoftball.
Tyra Perry – 2014 MAC Coach of the Year
After leading the Ball State softball team to a 12-4 league record, Perry became the first first-year coach in program history to earn MAC Coach of the Year accolades. Under her guidance, the Cardinals finished the year as the league leader in batting average (.333), team ERA (2.06) and fielding percentage (.980).
Jennifer Gilbert – 2014 MAC Player of the Year / All-MAC First Team
In earning MAC Player of the Year for the third straight season, Gilbert became the first player in league history to win the league’s top individual honor three times in a career. She also became just the second player in program history to earn four career All-MAC honors after being named to the second team as a freshman (2011) and to the first team the last three years (2012, 2013 and 2014). Amanda Montalto (2009-12) is the only other player in program history to earn four All-MAC honors, being named to the first team three times (2009, 2011 and 2012) and to the second team once (2010).
Gilbert, who started all 16 of Ball State’s league games, ranked second in conference-only action in batting average (.488), slugging percentage (.977) and on base percentage (.610). She tied for league-high honors with 18 runs scored, while also ranking near the top in RBI (19), doubles (4), home runs (5) and walks (13). Of her 13 walks in MAC play, four were intentional.
In helping guide the Cardinals to a 12-4 mark in league action, Gilbert scored at least one run in 11 MAC games, while producing at least one RBI in 10 conference tilts. Overall, she accounted for at least one run in 13 MAC games. She played a direct role in five of Ball State’s 12 league wins, producing game-winning RBI in three games, while scoring the game-winning run in two others. She was also named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice during conference play.
Taylor Rager – All-MAC First Team
Rager earned All-MAC First Team honors for the third time in her career (2011, 2013 and 2014) after ranking first in the conference in batting average (.500), slugging percentage (1.095), on base percentage (.625) and runs scored (18) in league-only games. Rager, who started all 16 MAC games at first base for Ball State, is one of only three players in program history to earn All-MAC First Team accolades three times in a career, joining Gilbert and Montalto.
Rager helped account for four game-winning runs by scoring a pair runs and driving in two RBI. Overall, she accounted for at least one run in 14 MAC games by recording at least one RBI in 12 contests and at least one run scored in 11 games. She was also a three-time MAC West Division Player of the Week during the league season.
Audrey Bickel – All-MAC First Team
Bickel earned All-MAC First Team accolades for the first time in her career after starting all 16 league games at third base for the Cardinals. A second-team selection as a sophomore (2012), Bickel posted a .356 batting average in league-only games this season, while logging a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Her 15 runs scored and 14 RBI both ranked third on the squad in MAC action.
Bickel accounted for at least one run in 13 MAC games, scoring at least once in 11 games and producing at least one RBI in eight outings. She also drove in two game-winning RBI and scored a pair of game-winning runs over the course of league action.
Briana Evans – All-MAC First Team
Evans earned All-MAC First Team honors for the first time in her career after starting all 16 league games in center field. The Cardinals’ nine-hole batter, she ranked fifth in league-only action with a .409 batting average to help set up the top of the Ball State order. Evans proved to be one of the fastest players in the league, with 12 of her 18 hits in league action never leaving the dirt.
Evans also proved to be one of the league’s top defensive outfielders, racking up a perfect fielding percentage in 17 chances, which included several hit-robbing diving catches.
Sammi Cowger – All-MAC First Team
Cowger earned All-MAC First Team recognition for the first time in her career after starting as the Cardinals’ designated player for the final 14 league games. The only two games Cowger did not start saw Gilbert in the designated player role after suffering a pre-game injury before the team’s MAC opener versus Toledo (April 6).
Cowger tallied a .343 batting average during league play, including her first career home run in Ball State’s win over Akron (April 18). She drove in what proved to be the game-winning run in the second game versus Western Michigan (April 12) with a RBI double in the seventh inning. She also scored the game-winning run versus Central Michigan (May 2), crossing the plate on a passed ball.
Nicole Steinbach – All-MAC Second Team
Steinbach picked up All-MAC Second Team accolades for the second straight season after posting a 6-3 record and one save in the circle for Ball State in league-only play. Her 1.73 ERA in conference action ranked second in the league, while her .251 opponent batting average was ninth. Steinbach threw seven complete games in eight league starts, while making three appearances in relief. The lone game she did not finish, Steinbach was struck in the arm by a line drive and could not continue, ultimately suffering the loss in the contest.
However, Steinbach rebounded to start the next game and threw a complete game shutout victory over Ohio (April 19), limiting the Bobcats to two hits in a 10-0 (5 inn.) victory. Her second complete game shutout victory came in last Saturday’s win over Eastern Michigan, as she helped the Cardinals clinch the 2014 MAC title by limiting the Eagles to four hits in an 8-0 (5 inn.) win. She closed the season by picking up her first save in MAC play, entering Sunday’s contest in relief with Ball State holding a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth. Over two innings of work, Steinbach limited the Eagles to just three hits as BSU won the game 11-3 (5 inn.).
2014 Player of the Year - Jennifer Gilbert, BSU
2014 Pitcher of the Year - Erin Seiler, UA
2014 Freshman of the Year - Kayti Grable, NIU
2014 Coach of the Year - Tyra Perry, Ball State
2014 Nan Harvey Award Winner - Shelby Miller, Northern Illinois
2014 All-MAC First Team
Cory DeLamielleure, CMU - C
Taylor Rager, BSU - 1B
Kristy Arbour, MIA - 2B
Audrey Bickel, BSU - 3B
Amanda Dalton, OU - SS
Jennifer Gilbert, BSU - OF
Katie Yoho, BGSU - OF
Holly Luciano, UB - OF
Erin Seiler, UA - P
Tori Speckman, UB - P
Sammi Cowger, BSU - UT
Jessica Sturm, NIU - UT/P
Briana Evans, BSU – At-Large
Sammi Gallardo, UB - At-Large
Kayti Grable, NIU - At-Large
Chandler Rice, UT - At-Large
2014 All-MAC Second Team
Emily Naegele, NIU - C
Celeste Fidge, UT - 1B
Kellie Roudabush, UA - 2B
Trista Cox, CMU - 3B
Carol Ann Sexauer, CMU - SS
Taylor Shuey, MIA - OF
Nicole Gremillion, NIU - OF
Jess Lemieux, UT - OF
Nicole Steinbach, BSU - P
Emma Johnson, KSU - P
Loren Nagy, WMU - UT
Jenna Modic, MIA - UT/P
Chelsea Raker, BGSU - At-Large
Jessica Schneider, UA - At-Large
Savannah Jo Dorsey, OU - At-Large
2014 All-Freshman Team
Chelsea Raker, BGSU
Aspen Searle, BGSU
Rachael Knapp, CMU
Michelle Kriegshauser, EMU
Ronnie Ladines, KSU
Casie Hutchinson, OU
Kayti Grable, NIU
Celeste Fidge, UT
Chandler Rice, UT
Kelsey Cichocki, WMU