► BIG WEEKEND AHEAD: The Ball State softball team will play in its toughest tournament to date this weekend when it travels to Louisville, Ky., for the Louisville Classic ... All three of the Cardinals' opponents at the event received votes in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll with North Carolina ranking No. 24 ... Iowa (14 votes) and Wisconsin (eight votes) were just outside the top 25 ... Ball State opens play at the Louisville Classic with Saturday games versus the Badgers (10 a.m.) and Tar Heels (3 p.m.) ... The Cardinals will then play single games versus the Hawkeyes Sunday (3 p.m.) and Monday (11 a.m.).
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals at the Louisville 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 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 215-154 (.583) 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 938-244 (.794) 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 Louisville Classic with an 11-9 overall record ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a .452 (28-for-62) batting average, seven home runs, 24 RBI and 22 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown three of complete game shutouts, owns a team-best 2.34 ERA and is limiting opposing batters to a .250 average ... As a team, the Cardinals own a .315 batting average and a 2.85 ERA ... BSU's opponents are batting a combined .267 and have a 6.01 ERA in the circle.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS
WISCONSIN - The Badgers enter the Louisville Classic with an 18-3 overall record after posting a 4-0 mark at last weekend's Sal Saluki Invitational hosted by Southern Illinois ... During the tournament, Wisconsin scored wins over Belmont (7-0), Southern Illinois (7-3), Illinois-Chicago (2-1, 8 inn.) and Eastern Kentucky (5-1) ... Mary Massei leads the squad with a .453 batting average, 23 runs scored and 22 RBI ... Cassandra Darrah leads the Wisconsin pitching staff with an 11-1 record over a team-high 83.1 innings of work ... She also boasts a 1.26 ERA and 60 of the team's 124 strikeouts ... As a team, the Badgers are batting .328 and own a 1.39 ERA ... Wisconsin's opponents are batting .220 and have a 4.60 ERA ... While the Badgers lead the all-time series 3-2, the Cardinals won the last meeting March 16, 2007 by a score of 3-0.
NO. 24 NORTH CAROLINA - Ranked 24th in the nation in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll, the Tar Heels enter the Louisville Classic with an 18-7 overall record after an 18-0 (5 inn.) loss at No. 17 Kentucky Tuesday ... Constance Orr leads UNC's regular starters with a .377 batting average, seven home runs and 26 RBI ... Lori Spingola owns an 11-5 record in the circle and has posted a 2.43 ERA over 100.2 innings of work with 117 strikeouts ... As a team, the Tar Heels are batting .313 and own a 3.26 ERA ... North Carolina's opponents are batting .238 and have a 5.35 ERA ... UNC holds an 4-1 edge in the all-time series including an 8-0 victory in the last meeting March 19, 2004.
IOWA - The Hawkeyes enter the Louisville Classic with a 17-6 overall record after going 3-1 at last weekend's Miken Invitational hosted by Maryland ... After losing the opener to St. John's (1-3), Iowa rebounded with wins over Maryland (9-4), Radford (10-0, 5 inn.) and Ohio State (8-0, 6 inn.) ... Kayla Massey leads the Hawkeyes with a .391 batting average and is tied for team-high honors with five home runs ... Chelsea Lyon paces the squad in the circle with an 8-2 record and a 2.10 ERA over 63.1 innings of work ... As a team, the Hawkeyes are batting .272 and own a 2.39 ERA ... Iowa's opponents are batting .229 and have a 4.43 ERA ... The Hawkeyes own a 13-0 advantage in the all-time series versus the Cardinals, including a 9-2 win in the last meeting March 24, 2007.
► WEEKLY AWARD WINNERS: The Ball State softball program claimed two more Mid-American Conference weekly awards during its spring break trip to Florida, with freshman pitcher Kelsey Schifferdecker being named the MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week March 5 and sophomore right fielder/designated player Hanne Stuedemann earning MAC West Division Player of the Week honors March 12 ... BSU has had at least one MAC weekly award winner in each of its four weekends of play this season.
► THE STREAK IS ON AGAIN: On her way to earning MAC West Division Player of the Week honors, Hanne Stuedemann reached base safely in all six games for the Cardinals last week ... In fact, Stuedemann has reached base safely in each of Ball State's last 16 games which started when she was hit by a pitch versus Creighton (Feb. 22) ... She has reached base on a hit 13 times during the span, while earning walks in the other two ... Last season, Stuedemann reached base safely in 40 consecutive games which included reaching base on a hit 30 times, by a walk eight times and being hit by a pitch twice.
► RECORD BREAKER: With a two-run blast over the right-center field wall in the fourth inning of the nightcap at Florida International (March 5), junior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert became the program's career home run leader ... So far this season, Gilbert has blasted seven home runs to raise her career total to 40 which also ranks fourth in Mid-American Conference history ... 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 24 RBI and 22 runs scored through Ball State's first 20 games, Jennifer Gilbert has produced 39 of BSU's 135 runs so far this season (factoring out seven RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 133 career games, Gilbert has amassed 139 career RBI (1.05 per game) and 127 runs scored (0.955 per game) ... Her 139 RBI are second in program history, while her 127 runs scored are tied for third.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: In addition to leading the squad with 24 RBI this season, Jennifer Gilbert tops the squad with a .526 (10-for-19) batting average with runners in scoring position this season ... Over her career, Gilbert has posted a .377 (55-for-146) batting average with runners in scoring position to lead all active players.
► NEW HOME RUN THREAT: After hitting just two home runs in her first 106 career games, senior catcher Sadie Robertson has doubled her career total with home runs in each of the last two outings ... Robertson hit a two-run blast in the Cardinals' victory over Florida A&M (March 8), while adding a three-run shot against Kansas (March 9) ... Robertson's first career home run was a solo shot against Mercer (Feb. 20, 2010) and her second was a grand slam versus Northern Illinois in the MAC Tournament (May 13, 2010).
► 4-FOR-4: Senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter closed play in the FAU Invitational with a 4-for-4 effort versus Kansas (March 9), logging two doubles and a pair of singles for her second career four-hit game ... Carpenter is the second Ball State player to go 4-for-4 in a game this season, joining Sadie Robertson who earned her first career four-hit game with two doubles and two singles in a 9-3 win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 23) ... Jennifer Gilbert is the only other player on the active roster with a four-hit game over her career.
► DOUBLING UP: Led by Amanda Carpenter's nine doubles this season, the Ball State offense paces the MAC with 42 doubles so far in 2013 ... Carpenter, who collected two doubles versus Kansas to close play in the FAU Invitational, is currently second in program history with 42 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 118 doubles over a 56-game schedule in 2013, collected a BSU and Mid-American Conference 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 15 double plays so far this season ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in 14 of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 43 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 ranked third in the Mid-American Conference with a 2.85 team ERA, led by freshmen Nicole Steinbach (2.34) and Kelsey Schifferdecker (3.23) ... Steinbach has thrown three complete game shutouts this season and is limiting opposing batters to a .250 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 4.13 ERA in 20.1 innings which includes three starts and four relief appearances.
► THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Ball State offense enters the week ranked 35th in the nation with its Mid-American Conference leading .315 team batting average ... The Cardinals' offense ranks in the top 25 nationally in doubles per game (2.1/6th), scoring (6.75/21st), slugging percentage (.510/24th) and home runs per game (1.05/25th) ... On defense, Ball State is third in the nation with its 0.75 double plays turned per game.
► INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS: Jennifer Gilbert entered the week ranked 31st nationally with her .452 batting average ... She is also 25th in slugging percentage (.871), 29th in runs per game (1.1), 30th in home runs (7), 33rd in on base percentage (.539), 33rd in home runs per game (0.35) and 34th in RBI per game (1.2) ... Amanda Carpenter entered the week ranked ninth nationally with her 0.47 doubles-per-game average.
► 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).