In another thriller between the top two teams in the Mid-American Conference West Division, the Ball State Cardinals softball’s pitchers combined to no-hit the Toledo Rockets as the Cardinals (37-18) survived and advanced in the 2018 MAC Softball Championships with a 2-0 victory Friday evening at Firestone Stadium.
“Things never go the way your draw it up,” Ball State head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett said with a laugh. “Carolyn and Aeshia combined for a beautiful game against a really talented Toledo offense. They were moving the ball in the zone to get strikes. They were keeping Toledo’s hitters off balance. They were super tough tonight and I am very proud of them.”
In her second strong start of the tournament, senior pitcher Carolyn Wilmes threw five brilliant innings and scattered five Rockets (34-21) walks over her time in the circle without giving up a hit or a run.
Toledo’s biggest threat versus Wilmes came in the top of the first, following back-to-back two-out walks. The Evansville, Indiana, native was not deterred, however, as she fired back with a strikeout to end the inning.
Wilmes stranded another Rockets runner in scoring position in the top of the fourth, with her second inning-ending strikeout of the game. Wilmes, who retired Toledo in order in both the second and fifth innings, finished the day with four strikeouts to her credit.
With a runner at first in the top of the sixth, junior pitcher Aeshia Miles entered the game and proceeded to retire three straight batters to keep the game scoreless and continue the no-hitter.
That’s where things really got interesting. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, freshman right fielder Katie Janiga quickly fell behind in the count with a strike and back-to-back foul balls. She battled back, working the count full and eventually drawing a nine-pitch walk.
After senior second baseman Maddy Labrador reached on a fielder’s choice, another battle was on with junior catcher Olivia Huffman. Huffman fell behind 1-2 in the count before fouling off five pitches and securing three more balls for an 11-pitch walk.
“Katie and Olivia were very disciplined in their at bats in the sixth,” Bartlett said. “They showed a lot of composure and were smart in their pitch selection. When you are having trouble getting a hit to fall in, you have to take command of the strike zone and be very disciplined. They did that and came up with two very big walks.”
The Cardinals then loaded the bases with two outs on a seven-pitch walk to sophomore left fielder Haley Dominique.
With two outs and bases loaded, sophomore designated player Janae Hogg followed with a blooper just out of reach of the diving Toledo shortstop for the only hit of the game, a two-run single to left.
“I am so happy for Janae,” Bartlett said. “She is extraordinarily talented and from the time she was a freshman, she has been treated like a senior in this conference. Teams do not like to pitch to her. While it was not her prettiest hit ever, it doesn’t matter. It looks like a line drive in the books. She has been grinding in her at bats this week and found a way to come up big for her teammates tonight.”
Then, much like yesterday, Ball State’s defense was on display in the top of the seventh as sophomore center fielder Kennedy Wynn made a great play on a liner to center for the first out.
After a hit batter, it was Huffman’s turn to show off the glove. Her first play, a somewhat routine foul ball for out number two. The second, however, was a spectacular play on a foul ball behind her in which Huffman came up with a diving, sliding snag just before the backstop to end the game.
In pitching the final two innings, Miles completed the no-hitter, picked up her second win of the day and improved to 20-9 on the year.
The Ball State softball team returns to action Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with another elimination game, this time versus Northern Illinois. The game was moved up an hour as rain and storms are expected in the Akron area much of the day tomorrow.