► HEADING WEST: The Ball State softball team returns to the road this weekend for the Colorado State Spring Tournament ... Ball State, which has played its first 23 games on the road this season and had its Tuesday home opener cancelled due to poor field conditions, is slated to play five games at the tournament starting Friday against Marist (9 a.m. MT) and host Colorado State (1:30 p.m. MT) ... Saturday, the Cardinals battle Columbia (9 a.m. MT) and Marist (11:15 a.m. MT), before closing the event Sunday against Colorado State (11:15 a.m.).
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals at the Colorado State Spring Tournament 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 2-1 record at the Louisville Classic, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 830-908-4 (.478) 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 217-155 (.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 at 18-3 and repeated the feat in 2010 with a 17-5 league mark ... 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 940-245 (.793) 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 Colorado State Spring Tournament with a 13-10 overall record ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a .466 (34-for-73) batting average, eight home runs, 26 RBI and 25 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown three of complete game shutouts, owns a team-best 2.27 ERA and is limiting opposing batters to a .248 average ... As a team, the Cardinals own a .315 batting average and a 2.90 ERA ... BSU’s opponents are batting a combined .265 and have a 5.82 ERA in the circle.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
MARIST - The Red Foxes enter a Wednesday game at Utah Valley with a 6-8 overall record after suffering an 11-6 loss at Brigham Young Tuesday ... Nicole Cheek leads the team with a .391 batting average, four home runs and 11 runs scored ... Emily Osterhaus has started a team-high five games in the circle for Marist and owns a 2-4 record with a team-best 1.95 ERA ... As a team, the Red Foxes are batting .266 and own a 2.65 ERA ... Marist’s opponents are batting .270 and have a 3.43 ERA ... Friday’s game will be the first ever between Ball State and Marist in softball.
COLORADO STATE - The Rams enter their own Colorado State Spring Tournament with a 13-14 overall record after earning a 2-1 win at Long Beach State Tuesday ... Ashlie Ortega leads the CSU regulars with a .375 batting average, 20 runs scored and 19 RBI ... Kacie McCarthy is the Rams’ pitching ace, boasting a 2.33 ERA and a 10-6 record over 108.1 innings of work ... She has also tallied 84 strikeouts on the year ... As a team, Colorado State is batting .256 and has a 3.20 ERA ... CSU’s opponents are batting .243 and have a 3.49 ERA ... Colorado State holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series versus Ball State, including a 5-0 victory in the most recent meeting March 17, 1995.
COLUMBIA - The Lions enter the Colorado State Spring Tournament with a 9-8 overall record after spitting a Wednesday morning doubleheader with Manhattan ... Columbia lost the first game 6-2, before rebounding for a 4-3 (9 inn.) victory in the second ... Emily Snodgrass paces the Lions offense with a .373 batting average, 15 RBI, 12 runs scored and four home runs ... Brooke Darling and Emily Kenyon have each started six games for Columbia, with Darling having a 4-3 record and a 1.41 ERA while Kenyon has a 3-2 record with a 1.96 ERA ... As a team, the Lions are batting .261 and own a 1.75 ERA ... Columbia’s opponents are batting .259 and have a 2.37 ERA ... Saturday’s game will mark the first ever meeting in softball between Ball State and Columbia.
► WEEKLY AWARD WINNERS: The Ball State softball program claimed two more Mid-American Conference weekly awards Tuesday, with freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach being named the MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week and sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox earning MAC West Division Player of the Week honors ... The Cardinals have had at least one MAC weekly award winner in each of its five weekends of play this season, while sweeping the award in the first and fifth weeks.
► COX ON A HOT STREAK: Against some of the Cardinals’ toughest competition to date, Taylor Cox led the Ball State offense with a .667 (8-for-12) batting average last week at the Louisville Classic ... Over the three games, she tallied seven singles and drove in the game-winning run versus No. 24 North Carolina with a RBI double in the second inning ... In addition, Cox led the Cardinals with five runs scored over the three games, while driving in a pair of runs to account for seven of the team’s 17 runs scored.
► MORE ON COX: Since moving into the leadoff position for the Ball State offense against Jacksonville (March 3), Taylor Cox has posted a .378 (14-for-37) batting average and has also drawn four walks for a .439 on-base percentage ... Her nine runs scored are tied for team-high honors over the past 10 games, while her three stolen bases are third ... Over the Cardinals’ first 13 games, Cox was batting .314 (11-for-35) with no walks and a .306 on base percentage form the ninth slot.
► FROM THE CIRCLE: In picking up the win over No. 24 North Carolina last Saturday, freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach limited the Tar Heels to just six hits and one earned run in over 7.0 innings of work ... Steinbach, who ranks sixth among the league’s starters with a 2.34 ERA, has held opponents to one earned run or less in eight of her 15 appearances.
► 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 eight home runs to raise her career total to 41 which also ranks fourth in Mid-American Conference history and is tied for 15th among all active NCAA Division I players ... 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 26 RBI and 25 runs scored through Ball State’s first 23 games, Jennifer Gilbert has accounted for 43 of BSU’s 152 runs so far this season (factoring out eight RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 136 career games, Gilbert has amassed 141 career RBI (1.04 per game) and 130 runs scored (0.96 per game) ... Her 141 RBI are second in program history, while her 130 runs scored are third.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: In addition to leading the squad with 26 RBI this season, Jennifer Gilbert tops the squad with a .500 (11-for-22) batting average with runners in scoring position ... Over her career, Gilbert has posted a .376 (56-for-149) batting average with runners in scoring position to lead all active players ... Senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter is second among Ball State’s starters with a .357 (82-for-230) average with runners in scoring position, including a .407 (11-for-27) effort this season.
► 4-FOR-4: 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 senior catcher 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 45 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 six doubles so far this season is third on BSU’s career doubles list at 40 ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 110 doubles over a 56-game schedule in 2013, collected a Ball State 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 16 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 entered the week ranked third in the Mid-American Conference with a 2.90 team ERA, led by freshmen Nicole Steinbach (2.27) and Kelsey Schifferdecker (3.55) ... 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 4.03 ERA in 24.1 innings which includes four starts and four relief appearances, as well as a complete game shutout versus Florida A&M (March 8).
► THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Ball State offense entered the week ranked 33rd in the nation with its Mid-American Conference leading .314 team batting average ... The Cardinals’ offense ranks in the top 25 nationally in doubles per game (2.0/7th), scoring (6.59/19th) and slugging percentage (.504/24th) ... On defense, Ball State is third in the nation with its 0.68 double plays turned per game.
► INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS: Jennifer Gilbert entered the week ranked 25th nationally with her .449 batting average ... She was also 20th in slugging percentage (.884), 25th in runs per game (1.09), 30th in home runs per game (0.36), 31st in RBI per game (1.18) and 32nd in on base percentage (.536) ... Amanda Carpenter entered the week ranked 14th nationally with her 0.43 doubles-per-game average, while junior third baseman Audrey Bickel ranks 25th in walks per game (0.82) ... Complete national rankings for the 2013 Ball State squad can be found on page 12 of this release.
► 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).