AKRON, Ohio - - The Ball State softball team saw its 2014 Mid-American Conference Tournament run come to an end with a 3-2 loss to Northern Illinois Friday afternoon at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
With its second loss in the double elimination tournament, the Cardinals closed the 2014 season with a 33-19 record. The 2014 MAC regular season champions, Ball State finished league play with a 12-4 MAC mark to earn its fifth regular season title in six seasons.
“We went into today’s game believing we were going to come out with a victory,” Ball State head coach Tyra Perry said. “Unfortunately we fell a little short. Our bats have been cold the past two games, and while they started to wake up at the end, we just ran out of innings. Our goals from the beginning of the season were to win both the MAC Championship and the MAC Tournament. We were able to accomplish the first, but fell short in the second. Our returning players are determined to work hard, so when we get into this position next year we will be prepared and ready to do what it takes to win.”
After a scoreless first inning, Northern Illinois posted the game’s first run thanks to a one-out RBI double down the right field line from Rebecca Rupard. However, thanks to some quick fielding and a strong throw in from junior right fielder Loren Cihlar (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North), the Cardinals were able to get Rupard out at third as she tried to stretch the hit into a triple.
NIU pulled ahead 2-0 in the top of the third inning, thanks to a one-out RBI triple from Nicole Gremillion. Two innings later, Gremillion gave the Huskies a 3-0 edge with a two-out double down the right field line.
Trailing 3-0, sophomore designated player Sammi Cowger (Fenton, Mich./Fenton) got the Cardinals on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth, blasting a leadoff home run deep over the temporary fence in center field.
Cihlar looked to give the Cardinals some more offensive momentum in the bottom of the sixth, leading off the inning by dropping a single over the NIU third baseman’s head. Two batters later, senior first baseman Taylor Rager (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) gave BSU two runners with a single to short.
Ball State senior third baseman Audrey Bickel (Munster, Ind./Andrean) followed with a groundout to the Huskies’ first baseman, who tagged the bag and then threw the ball into center field while trying to turn a double play at second. The error allowed Cihlar to score from third. Unfortunately, Northern Illinois was able to retire the final four Ball State batters to lock up the 3-2 victory.
Sophomore pitcher Nicole Steinbach (Merrillville, Ind./Andrean) suffered the loss despite allowing just three runs and six hits over seven innings of work. She retired the Huskies in order in three of the final four innings, while finishing the game with three strikeouts.
The loss brings an end to the careers of the most decorated four-year class in program history. Seniors Jennifer Gilbert (McKinney Texas/McKinney), Lauren Schroeder (Greenfield, Ind./New Palestine), Rager and Bickel. They combined to lead the Cardinals to three MAC regular season championships and a 144-75 record over their careers, including a 60-18 ledger in MAC play.
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