Having to dig out of a hole has been a common thread for Ball State (13-9, 5-5 MAC) in 2023. Whether it was within respective matches, or trying to recover from a 2-5 start in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play, they’ve been battling from behind for most of this season.
After their 4-3 win Sunday over the Buffalo Bulls (9-8, 5-5 MAC), they’ve fought all the way back to claim a spot in the upcoming MAC tournament.
To fully understand how impressive getting into the MAC tournament is for this team, you have to go back to just one short week ago. If the Cardinals lost to Northern Illinois back on April 9, they were out of the race for the tournament. After losing the doubles point to start that match, their season was in jeopardy. They came back to win the match 5-2 and kept their hopes alive.
“We lose the doubles point to Northern (Illinois), and we’re down to our last out. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and we have to have a walk-off homerun, and we did that,” head coach Bill Richards said. “Then we followed it up with a solid performance Friday, and a gutsy win today.”
Just like they did throughout the regular season, the Cardinals had to battle from behind Sunday. After splitting doubles matches on courts one and two, second-year Yu-Shiang Huang Cheng Tang of Buffalo defeated fourth-year Parrish Simmons and first-year Jacks Lancaster 6-4 to give the Bulls the doubles point.
Ball State quickly halted any momentum that Buffalo may have had coming out of doubles play with two straight-set wins from fourth-years Vince Orlando and Eli Herran
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to come back too often (this season) from losing the doubles point, so we’re used to it,” Richards said. “But mentally, emotionally, we deal with it. That’s probably the biggest thing is putting the doubles point behind us, and everybody coming out and going to work in singles.”
Herran finished his regular season at a team-best 18-3 record in singles. He was 7-3 in three-set matches this year. Even though Sunday was a straight-set win, he credits his assertiveness in some of the close matches that led him to an impressive regular season.
“Definitely this attitude of going and getting my points,” Herran said. “Not hoping that the guy is going to miss, hoping that the guy is going to lose the match. It’s me going and making myself win the match.”
Courts five and six saw the Cardinals take a pair of three-set matches, with third-year Sajin Smith winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. First-year Broc Fletcher won 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
The Cardinals will be the third seed in the MAC tournament, and are matched up with the number two seed, the Western Michigan Broncos (), who have won the last four MAC tournament championships. The task is daunting, but Ball State has been playing do-or-die matches for over a week now. Their confidence level is high, and excited about the challenge of dethroning a champion.
“Today we came out with the mentality that we had to win this match, and again with our backs against the wall, lost the doubles point,” Herran said. “Everybody played well, everybody fought back and I think it just shows the grit we have and the belief that we can win the whole thing.”
The MAC tournament gets underway for the Cardinals on Saturday, with their match against Western Michigan scheduled for a 2 p.m. start in Kalamazoo, Michigan.