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   WOODSTOCK, Ga. - - In a hard fought back-and-forth battle, the Ball State softball team suffered an 8-6 loss to Eastern Kentucky Sunday afternoon to end play in the KSU Classic hosted by Kennesaw State.

   With the loss, the Cardinals conclude its season-opening tournament with a 3-1 record. EKU improved to 2-1 with the victory.

   Junior left field Jennifer Gilbert belted her third home run of the season in the game, moving her career total to 36. Gilbert, who went 3-for-4 in the contest with three RBI and three runs scored, needs just three more home runs to pass the school record of 38 set by Amanda Montalto (2009-12).

   Junior third baseman Audrey Bickel also blasted a home run in the contest, her second of the season, while going 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk, two RBI and one run scored.

   A pair of BSU errors in the top of the first allowed the Colonels to get on the board first when Raquel Howes led off the game by reaching base on an error and came home to score thanks to an over throw of first base on the next play.

   Ball State would get the run back in the bottom of the frame thanks to a small two-out rally. Gilbert started the rally with a single and advanced to second on a walk to Bickel. Junior first baseman Taylor Rager followed with an RBI single to left field.

   The Cardinals would take their first lead of the game in the top of the third when Gilbert blasted her second home run of the day, and third of the season, over the scoreboard in center field.

   While Eastern Kentucky scored three runs in the top of the fourth to pull ahead 4-2, the Cardinals responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the frame to reclaim a 6-4 edge.

   Freshman shortstop Selena Reyna and sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox each singled to open the bottom of the fourth, before a pair of outs left a Cardinals rally in doubt. However, Gilbert would smash a double to left field and Bickel followed with a two-run blast over the left-center field wall to plate four runs.

   After a scoreless fifth inning, EKU would score two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to escape with an 8-6 victory.

   Redshirt junior hurdler Audra Sanders, who entered the game in relief in the top of the fourth, suffered the loss after allowing four earned runs and six hits over 3.1 innings of work. Freshman Kelsey Schifferdecker started the game, allowing four runs (two earned) and five hits over the first 3.2 innings. Both BSU pitchers struck out one batter.

   Leanna Pittsenbarger picked up the win for EKU in the circle, overcoming a shaky start to hold Ball State scoreless over the final three innings. In five innings of work, Pittsenbarger allowed four runs and four hits while striking out five batters.

   Hayley Flynn started the game in the circle for Eastern Kentucky, allowing two runs and five hits over 2.0 innings of work.

   The Ball State softball team returns to action Friday, when it opens play in the Central Arkansas Tournament with games versus Creighton (11 a.m. CT) and Grambling (1 p.m. CT).

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