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The Zips were fueled by the bitterness they felt had after losing to Central Michigan in last year’s final. They didn’t want to come up short again. Other than a brief stretch of the second half when Ball State couldn’t miss, Akron was in complete control.

“I was so nervous today,” Kest said. “I wanted it so bad for them.”

When Akron’s lead reached 25, the school’s fans began celebrating when the Cardinals got hot. Carter found her stroke and made four consecutive 3-pointers, the last cutting Akron’s lead to 73-63 with 4:02 left.

With Ball State making its run, Kest said she didn’t panic, knowing she had four seniors on the floor - one of them Tecca.

“I thought, ‘We’ll be OK, and get the ball to Rachel,’” she said.

Akron went right back inside to Tecca, who got fouled and made two free throws to make it 77-63. Ball State scored again, but this time the Zips got a basket underneath from senior reserve Carly Young, who had 15 points.

As the final seconds ticked down, Tecca and her teammates shared emotional hugs at mid-court. Moments later, they were presented with the MAC title trophy - and the NCAA spot that goes along with it - two prizes long out of reach for the Zips.

Now, the Zips want more.

“They think they can go farther in the NCAA tournament,” Kest said. “People laughed when some of our kids said that. But they believe.”

Akron senior guard Hanna Luburgh scored just 6 points - 17 under her average - but chipped in with 12 rebounds.

The Zips never stopped pushing the tempo, convinced the Cardinals would crumble.

“The fatigue no question was a factor,” Ball State coach Brady Sallee said. “As talented as Akron is, if you show just a little bit of that, they’re flying down the floor for layups. They never let up. They did what they had to do. That’s what championship teams do.”