► FROM SUNNY FLORIDA: The Ball State softball team continues its 11-game spring break trip to Florida starting this evening with a 5 p.m. doubleheader at Florida International ... The Cardinals close out the trip Thursday-Saturday at the FAU Invitational hosted by Florida Atlantic ... At the event, the Cardinals will play Michigan State (Thursday at 11 a.m.), Stony Brook (Friday at 11 a.m.), Florida A&M (Friday at 4 p.m.) and Kansas (Saturday at 4 p.m.)
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals at FIU and at the FAU Invitational 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 2-3 record at the FAU Classic hosted by Florida Atlantic last weekend, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 825-904-4 (.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 212-151 (.584) 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 935-241 (.795) 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 today's doubleheader at Florida International with an 8-6 overall record ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a .488 (21-for-43) batting average, five home runs, 18 RBI and 16 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Kelsey Schifferdecker has a team-best 2.36 ERA and a 4-0 record ... Freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown three of complete game shutouts and is limiting opposing batters to a .249 average while posting 38 strikeouts ... As a team, the Cardinals own .313 batting average and a 2.89 team ERA.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL - The Panthers enter today's doubleheader with a 12-9 overall record after posting a 2-3 mark at last weekend's Georgia Southern Tournament ... FIU's last game was an 8-0 loss to South Carolina ... Amber Curry leads the squad with a .325 batting average and is one of three players on the team with a home run ... Corinne Jenkins leads the FIU pitching staff with 5-1 record over a team-high 51.0 innings of work ... She also boasts a 2.75 ERA and 48 of the team's 132 strikeouts ... As a team, FIU is batting .239 and owns a 2.98 ERA ... Ball State is 1-1 all-time versus Florida International, including a 6-1 victory in the most recent meeting March 7, 2008.
MICHIGAN STATE - The Spartans enter the week with an 11-7 overall record after posting a 3-1 mark at last weekend's FAU Classic which includes a 4-2 win over the Cardinals ... MSU will play a doubleheader versus Niagara Tuesday before facing the Cardinals in the FAU Invitational ... Kylene Hopkins paces the Spartans with a .463 batting average and has scored a team-best 15 runs ... Kelly Smith is MSU's ace in the circle, with a 9-2 record, a 1.97 ERA and 80 strikeouts over 78.1 innings of work ... As a team, Michigan State is batting .281 and owns a 3.12 ERA ... MSU holds an 12-6 edge in the all-time series after last Saturday's 4-2 win at the FAU Classic.
STONY BROOK - The Seawolves enter the FAU Invitational with a 6-9 overall record after going 2-3 at last weekend's NC State Wolfpack Challenge which was bookended by losses to Kansas (12-0/5 and 7-1) ... Bria Green paces the Stony Brook offense with a .439 batting average and 13 RBI ... She has also collected three of the team's seven home runs this season ... Christine Lucido paces the squad in the circle with a 4-0 record and a 3.39 ERA over 33.0 innings of work ... As a team, the Seawolves are batting .246 and have a 5.54 ERA ... Ball State scored an 8-0 (6 inn.) victory in the only previous meeting with Stony Brook on March 13, 2010.
FLORIDA A&M - The Rattlers enter the week with a 4-15 overall record and will play North Florida Tuesday before facing the Cardinals in the FAU Invitational ... Last weekend, FAMU turned in a 1-4 record at the Florida Lipton Invitational capped by an 8-0 loss to Presbyterian ... Brielle Gordon leads the squad with a .345 batting average and has six of the team's 12 doubles ... Jennifer Lindsay is the Rattlers' top pitcher with a 2-10 record, a 3.76 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 63.1 innings of work ... As a team, FAMU is batting .208 and has a 5.02 ERA ... Ball State holds a 3-1 edge in the all-time series versus Florida A&M, but the two teams have not played since March 4, 1991.
KANSAS - The Jayhawks are the hottest team entering the FAU Invitational, owning a 14-5 overall record, including a 4-1 mark at last weekend's NC State Wolfpack Challenge ... Kansas out-scored its opponents by a 58-6 margin last weekend, including three five-inning shutouts ... Seven of Kansas' starters are batting .400-or-better, led by Rosie Hull at .500 and Maggie Hull at .460 ... In the circle, Alicia Pille has thrown a team-high 55.2 innings and owns a 5-3 record, a 2.51 ERA and 73 strikeouts ... As a team, the Jayhawks are batting .400 and have a 2.43 ERA ... Kansas won the only previous meeting between the two teams on March 5, 2005.
► FOR THE RECORD: With her solo home run in Ball State's 20-3 win over Grambling (Feb. 22), 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 18 RBI and 16 runs scored through Ball State's first 14 games, junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert has produced 29 of BSU's 101 runs so far this season (factoring out five RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 127 career games, Gilbert has amassed 133 career RBI (1.05 per game) and 121 runs scored (0.953 per game) ... Her 133 RBI are second in program history, while her 121 runs scored are fourth.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: Over her career, Jennifer Gilbert has posted a .376 (53-for-141) 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 .385 (25 for 65).
► 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.
► DOUBLING UP: Led by senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter's seven doubles this season, the Ball State offense paces the MAC with 33 doubles so far in 2013 ... Carpenter, who collected one double at last weekend's FAU Classic, is currently second in program history with 40 career doubles ... Jennifer Gilbert, who has five doubles so far this season is tied for third on BSU's career doubles list at 39 ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 132 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 12 double plays so far this season ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in 11 of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 40 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 2.89 combined ERA, led by freshmen Kelsey Schifferdecker (2.36) and Nicole Steinbach (2.43) ... Steinbach has thrown three complete game shutouts this season and is limiting opposing batters to a .249 average ... 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 5.86 ERA in 14.1 innings which includes two starts and three relief appearances.
► 2012 VS. 2013: Ball State finished the 2012 season ranked in the top 15 nationally in nearly every offensive category ... Through 14 games in 2013, the Cardinals are already ahead of their 2012 totals in nearly every category ... Ball State was batting .286 at this point in 2012 versus .313 this season ... Ball State had only scored 69 of its school-record 368 runs scored through the first 14 games last season, while this season BSU has already tallied 101 runs ... BSU's 33 doubles so far in 2013 are five more than last season, while BSU is two triples ahead of last season's pace ... The 2012 Cardinals did have one more home run at this point in the season, but the 2013 squad's .495 slugging percentage is ahead of the 2012 squad's .471 effort through 14 games ... On defense, BSU has 12 double plays so far this season, compared to seven at this point in 2012.
► 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).