TEMPE, Ariz. - - The Ball State softball team opened play in the Louisville Slugger Invitational with wins over South Carolina (10-9) and FIU (8-6) Friday evening at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
With the two wins, the Cardinals improve to 9-2 on the season and have won five consecutive games.
After giving up seven runs in the top of the sixth inning to fall behind 9-5 to the Gamecocks (14-4), the Cardinals rallied for five unanswered runs over the final two innings to claim the victory. The winning run came courtesy of a pass ball which allowed sophomore shortstop Selena Reyna (Houston, Texas/South Houston) to score from third.
In the nightcap, the Cardinals held an 8-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, only to have four errors help the Panthers (12-5) score four one-out runs. The Ball State defense came together in the end, however, forcing a pair of groundouts to strand FIU runners at second and third to end the game.
Offensively, sophomore center fielder Briana Evans (Tulsa, Okla./Union) led the way with five hits, while senior first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) and senior third baseman Audrey Bickel (Munster, Ind./Andrean) each collected four RBI.
Sophomore second baseman Emily Dabkowski (Plainfield, Ind./South Putnam) also had a solid day, going 3-for-6 at the plate with a walk, while adding four runs scored and three RBI. Dabkowski would also steal a pair of bases over the two games.
At the top of the order, junior right fielder Loren Cihlar (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) went 4-for-6 with two walks, three runs scored and one RBI.
In the circle, sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker (Belton, Mo./Belton) picked up the win both contests, while sophomore Nicole Steinbach (Merrillville, Ind./Andrean) earned the save versus FIU by forcing the final two groundouts.
The Ball State softball team is scheduled to continue play in the Louisville Slugger Invitational hosted by No. 3 Arizona State Saturday with games versus Detroit (Noon ET/10 am MST) and No. 19 Minnesota (4:30 pm ET/2:30 pm MST).
GAME 1 RECAP: Ball State 10 – South Carolina 9
The Gamecocks got off to a fast start in the top of the first inning, as leadoff hitter Dana Hathorn singled up the middle and came around to score on a two-run homer from Sarah Mooney three batters later.
The lead was short-live, however, as Cihlar opened the bottom of the frame with a single and advanced to third on a throwing error by the South Carolina pitcher on a Dabkowski sacrifice bunt attempt. Dabkowski would go on to steal second. After a pair of strikeouts, Bickel would walk to load the bases. Junior designated player Hanne Stuedemann (Mattawan, Mich./Mattawan) followed with a two-run double to left-center to even the score.
The Cardinals tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the third, thanks to a three-run blast from Bickel to claim their first lead at 5-2. Dabkowski opened the inning with a double, while Gilbert walked. Following the first out, Bickel blasted a 3-1 pitch over the left-center field wall.
After a pair of scoreless innings, South Carolina rallied for seven runs in the top of the sixth inning to seemly take control of the game.
The Cardinals were not go down without a fight, however, scoring three two-out runs in the bottom of the frame to pull within one. Evans started the rally with a single up the middle, while walks to Cihlar and Dabkowski loaded the bases. Gilbert drew a third straight walk to bring in Ball State’s first run of the inning. Rager and Bickel would then collect back-to-back singles to each drive in a run, cutting the South Carolina lead to 9-8.
After issuing a walk to the first batter in the top of the seventh, Schifferdecker forced a pair of flies and struck out the final batter to keep the margin at one run.
The bottom of the frame started with junior catcher Jessica Craft (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) getting hit by a pitch, while senior pinch hitter Lauren Schroeder (Greenfield, Ind./New Palestine) drew a walk. After BSU’s first out of the inning, Cihlar drew another free pass to load the bases.
Dabkowski then sent a grounder to the South Carolina second baseman who misplayed the ball and allowed the tying run to score on the error. A pass ball moments later would allow the game-winning run in Reyna to cross the player.
Game 2 Recap: Ball State 8 – FIU 6
Serving as the visiting team for the nightcap, the Cardinals jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to a RBI single through the right side from Rager. Cihlar scored on the play after reaching base on a bunt single, advancing to second on a sac bunt and to third on a fly out.
Unfortunately, a pair of errors in the bottom of the frame allowed the Panthers to even the score at 1-1. FIU would go on to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second on a RBI single from Rachel Slowik.
Evans would open the third inning with a bunt single, advance to second on a sac bunt from Cihlar and move to third on a Dabkowski infield hit. Gilbert followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to even the score.
The Cardinals would tally four runs in the top of the fifth to pull ahead 6-2. Reyna singled to open the inning, while a FIU error allowed Evans to reach base. Cihlar followed with a single to left-center to load the bases. A Dabkowski fielder’s choice to shortstop would get Cihlar out at second, but bring in BSU’s first run of the inning in Reyna.
Following an FIU pitching chance, Gilbert singled to right center to plate the inning’s second run. After Gilbert stole second, Rager deposited a two-run double into right-center field to cap BSU’s scoring in the inning.
Ball State extended its lead to 8-2 in the top of the sixth with two more runs. Sophomore pinch hitter Sammi Cowger (Fenton, Mich./Fenton) doubled to open the inning and would advance to third on a bunt single from Reyna. Another bunt single from Evans would load the bases for Cihlar, who sliced a RBI single to left field. Dabkowski would drive in BSU’s final run of the inning with the game’s longest single, as she just missed her first career grand slam with a RBI single off the left-center field wall.
FIU would capitalize on four Ball State errors in the bottom of the seventh, pulling within two runs at 8-6. However, behind relief pitcher Steinbach, the Cardinals defense would collect groundouts from the next two batters to end the game and strand FIU runners at second and third.