► ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Ball State softball team opens its 11-game, 10-day spring break trip to Florida Friday, when it battles Harvard (11 a.m.) and Florida Atlantic (4 p.m.) in the opening day of the FAU Classic ... The Cardinals will play Eastern Michigan (9 a.m.) and Michigan State (1 p.m.) on day two of the event Saturday, before closing out the tournament versus Jacksonville (9 a.m.) Sunday.
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals throughout the FAU Classic with live stats at the link above ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStSoftball and Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 3-2 record at the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament hosted by Central Arkansas last weekend, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 823-901-4 (.477) in 38-plus seasons of play ... Established as a varsity program in 1975, Ball State has won three Mid-American Conference regular season titles (2009, 2010 and 2012), two MAC Tournament championships (1998 and 2010) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice (1998 and 2010).
► HEAD COACH CRAIG NICHOLSON: The fastest coach in program history to eclipse the 100 and 200-win marks, Craig Nicholson picked up his 900th collegiate coaching victory versus Northern Colorado (March 11, 2012) ... In his seventh season as Ball State's head coach, Nicholson has amassed a 210-148 (.587) record at BSU, including an 82-44 (.651) ledger in MAC action ... Under his guidance, the program won its first-ever Mid-American Conference regular season championship in 2009 with the best league record in program history (18-3) and repeated the feat in 2010 ... The 2010 squad, which set program records for wins in a season (43) and winning percentage in a season (.729), also captured just the second MAC Tournament title in program history to advance to the NCAA Tournament ... The Cardinals added a third regular season crown in 2012 by virtue of its 17-3 league mark ... Nicholson owns a 933-238 (.797) career coaching record including his 723-90 mark in 11 years at Central Arizona.
► SCOUTING THE CARDINALS: Picked as the preseason favorite to win both the 2013 Mid-American Conference West Division title and the 2013 MAC Tournament as voted on by the league's 12 head coaches, the Cardinals enter the FAU Classic with a 6-3 overall record ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a MAC-best .630 (17-for-27) batting average, five home runs, 14 RBI and 15 runs scored ... In the circle, Nicole Steinbach has a team-best 2.00 ERA, a 2-2 record and one save ... She has thrown a pair of complete game shutouts and is limiting opposing batters to a .219 average while posting 26 strikeouts ... As a team, the Cardinals own a league-best .337 batting average and are second in the MAC with a 2.73 team ERA.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS
HARVARD - The Crimson will be opening their 2013 season at the FAU Classic this weekend ... Last season, Harvard advanced to the NCAA Regional Round for the fifth time in program history by posting a 35-15 overall record and winning the Ivy League with a 17-3 mark ... The Crimson return just four position starters and two pitchers from last season's squad ... Ball State holds a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series versus Harvard, including a 5-4 victory in the latest meeting, March 8, 2008 in Miami, Fla.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC - The Owls enter the FAU Classic with a 5-9 overall record after posting a 2-3 mark at last weekend's FAU Strike Out Cancer Tournament ... FAU's last game was a 7-3 loss to Northern Illinois ... Jordan Stovall leads the squad with a .333 batting average and is one of three Owls with a home run this season ... Samantha Messer has a team-best 1.84 ERA and a 2-0 record over 14.2 innings, while Taylor Fawbush has thrown the most innings on the squad at 37.0 and has a 4.62 ERA and a 2-4 record ... As a team, FAU is batting .220 and owns a 3.53 ERA ... Friday's game will be the first between Ball State and Florida Atlantic in softball.
EASTERN MICHIGAN - A very familiar foe for the Cardinals, the Eagles enter the FAU Classic with a 2-3 overall record but have not played since a 6-5 loss to Kennesaw State on Feb. 10 ... Katy Blaharski and Courtney Nicholson are tied for team-high honors with .429 batting averages ... Blaharski has scored a team-best five runs, while Nicholson ranks third on the squad with three RBI ... In the circle, Jenna Ignowski has a team-best 2.25 ERA over 9.1 innings of work ... As a team, EMU is batting .246 and owns a 5.75 ERA ... Ball State holds a 55-35 advantage in the all-time series versus its league foe, including three straight wins.
MICHIGAN STATE - The Spartans enter the FAU Classic with an 8-6 overall record after going 3-2 at last weekend's Florida Golf Coast Tournament ... MSU closed the event with losses to Villanova (5-1) and Florida Golf Coast (6-0) ... Kylene Hopkins paces the Spartans with a .442 batting average and has scored a team-best 11 runs ... Kelly Smith is MSU's ace in the circle, with a 6-2 record, a 2.20 ERA and 57 strikeouts over 54.0 innings of work ... As a team, Michigan State is batting .283 and owns a 3.43 ERA ... MSU holds an 11-6 edge in the all-time series which has not seen a game since the Spartans won a March 5, 2000 doubleheader in Tampa, Fla., by scores of 7-2 and 3-2.
JACKSONVILLE - The Dolphins, which have had their last four games rained out, enter the FAU Classic with a 10-4 overall record after completing the JU Invitational with an 8-2 victory over Delaware ... Sarah Simon leads Jacksonville with a .405 batting average, five home runs and 11 RBI ... Cecile Gomez, who has a 4-0 record in the circle, has a team-best 1.05 ERA and is holding opponents to a .129 batting average over 26.2 innings of work ... As a team, the Dolphins are batting .303 and own a 2.69 ERA ... Ball State holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series versus Jacksonville with both wins coming in a March 14, 2007 doubleheader by scores of 6-2 and 3-1.
► MAKE IT TWO IN A ROW: For the second straight week, junior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert has been named the Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week ... Over Ball State's five games last weekend at the UCA Tournament, Gilbert posted a .533 (8-for-15) batting average, while blasting two more home runs and drawing five walks ... She also logged a pair of doubles, six runs scored and four RBI.
► FOR THE RECORD: With her solo home run in last Friday's 20-3 win over Grambling, Jennifer Gilbert tied the Ball State career home run record with her 38th career blast ... The total is also tied for fourth in the Mid-American Conference record book ... Kelli Metzger (1996-99 for Akron) holds the league's all-time home run record at 57, followed by Jenny Scherer (2007-10 for Eastern Michigan) at 48 and Molly Coldren (2009-12 for Central Michigan) at 44.
► A RUN PRODUCING MACHINE: With 15 runs scored and 14 RBI through Ball State's first nine games, junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert has produced 24 of BSU's 77 runs so far this season (factoring out five RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 122 career games, Gilbert has amassed 129 career RBI (1.06 per game) and 120 runs scored (0.984 per game) ... Her 129 RBI are tied for second in program history, while her 120 runs scored are tied for fourth.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: Over her career, Jennifer Gilbert has posted a .375 (50-for-133) batting average with runners in scoring position ... Only one player on the active roster has a better batting average with runners in scoring position and that is sophomore outfielder Hanne Stuedemann at .386 (22 for 57).
► 4-FOR-4: Senior catcher Sadie Robertson collected Ball State's first four-hit game this season when she went 4-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored in the Cardinals' 9-3 victory over Northern Iowa (Feb. 23) ... Robertson is one of only three players on the active roster with a four-hit game, joining senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter and Jennifer Gilbert who both have one apiece.
► IMPRESSIVE FIRST SHOT: Freshman shortstop Selena Reyna made her first career home run a memorable one, blasting a grand slam in BSU's 14-0 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff ... Reyna lead the Ball State offense with nine RBI at the UCA Tournament by collecting four versus Grambling and five against UAPB ... She also hit .333 (5-for-15) over the five games and recorded BSU's first triple of 2013.
► DOUBLING UP: Led by senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter's league-best six doubles this season, the Ball State offense paces the MAC with 22 doubles so far in 2013 ... Carpenter, who collected three doubles last weekend at the UCA Tournament, is currently tied for second in program history with 39 career doubles ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 136 doubles over a 56-game schedule in 2013, collected a BSU single-season record 100 doubles in 2012.
► DOUBLING UP PART 2: The Ball State defense has also picked up where it left off in 2012, turning seven double plays so far this season ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in six of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 35 career double plays turned ... Last season, the Ball State defense led the nation with both 33 double plays turned and a 0.60 double plays-per-game average.
► IN THE CIRCLE: Ball State's pitching staff enters the week with a 2.73 combined ERA which ranks second in the Mid-American Conference ... Freshman Nicole Steinbach's 2.00 ERA leads BSU's starters, while Kelsey Schifferdecker is second at 3.23 ... From the pen, redshirt junior Lauren Williamson has a perfect 0.00 ERA over 2.0 innings of work, while redshirt junior Audra Sanders owns a 4.20 ERA in 11.2 innings.
► THE K FACTOR: Ball State's pitchers have struck out a combined 50 batters so far this season, with Nicole Steinbach recording 26, Kelsey Schifferdecker posting 13 and Audra Sanders tallying nine ... The Cardinals enter the week ranked fourth in the MAC by averaging 5.93 strikeouts per seven innings.
► OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS IN THE MAC: Over the past four seasons, Ball State softball has proven to be one of the MAC's premier programs by racking up a league-best 65-19 (.774) MAC record during the span ... Miami is second on the list at 56-32 (.636) followed by Kent State at 53-32 (.619).