► TIME FOR SOME MAC ACTION: The Ball State softball team opens league play this weekend, beginning Friday with a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Bowling Green ... The Cardinals will then play single games at Toledo Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).
► LISTEN LIVE: Ball State Sports Link Radio and WCRD 91.3 FM officially kick off their coverage of Ball State Softball this weekend ... Play-by-play announcer Torey Fox will cover the action live from both Bowling Green and Toledo ... Fans can listen to all the games on ballstatesports.com ... To listen online for FREE, visit http://ballstatesports.com/liveevents and click on the link when the event goes live.
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals as they begin league play with live stats by visiting: http://ballstatesports.com/livestats ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStSoftball and Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 1-0 record at the Colorado State Spring Tournament last weekend, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 831-908-4 (.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 218-155 (.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 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 MAC regular season crown in 2012 by virtue of its 17-3 league mark ... Nicholson owns a 941-245 (.793) career coaching record including his 723-90 mark in 11 years at Central Arizona.
► SCHEDULE UPDATE: Due to the current string of bad weather the Cardinals have faced, a couple of additions have been made to the schedule ... Ball State will now host Butler for a single game Tuesday, April 9 at 4 p.m. ... The following day, the Cardinals’ single game at Purdue has been changed to a doubleheader with the same start time of 3 p.m.
► 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 first weekend of Mid-American Conference play with a 14-10 overall record ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a .461 (35-for-76) batting average, eight home runs, 27 RBI and 26 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 MAC-best .321 batting average, while its 3.03 ERA is third in the conference ... BSU’s opponents are batting a combined .263 and have a 6.08 ERA in the circle.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
BOWLING GREEN - The Falcons, who were picked to win the MAC East Division in the league’s preseason poll, enter Friday’s doubleheader versus Ball State with a 12-8 overall record after suffering a 9-1 (5 inning) loss at Michigan Wednesday afternoon ... Prior to the loss, BGSU had swept doubleheaders at Dayton (March 16; 3-0/5-3) and at Wright State (March 22; 2-0/2-1) ... Pitching is BGSU’s main weapon, as the team enters the weekend ranked second in the MAC with a 2.66 ERA ... Paris Imholz paces the staff with a 9-2 record and a 1.53 ERA over 78.0 innings of work ... She also has a pair of saves and has collected 42 strikeouts ... Bowling Green’s offense ranks last in the MAC with its combined .211 batting average ... Hannah Fulk is BGSU’s top offensive threat with a .321 batting average, including two home runs ... Fulk is also tied for team-high honors with nine runs scored and 12 walks ... Bowling Green holds a 49-36 edge in the all-time series with Ball State, despite the Cardinals winning three games last season ... In the first meeting (May 5), the Cardinals were battling Bowling Green for the MAC regular season title and secured a 6-0 win over the Falcons at the BSU Softball Complex to win the league crown outright ... Ball State then closed the regular season with an 8-5 win over the Falcons the following day ... At the 2012 MAC Tournament, the Cardinals added a 3-2 win (May 11) over Bowling Green to complete the season sweep.
TOLEDO - The Rockets, who were picked to finish last in the MAC West Division in the league’s preseason poll, enter league play with a 5-15 overall record and will host Miami for a doubleheader Friday before playing the Cardinals Saturday and Sunday ... Due to the recent string of bad weather, the Rockets have not played a game since falling to Illinois-Chicago by a score of 6-5 (8 inn.) in the Hoosier Classic March 16 ... Toledo’s offense entered the week ranked third in the MAC with a .270 batting average, led by Leigh Nebendahl who is batting .339 with 21 hits, including a team-best seven doubles ... In the circle, Toledo is last in the league with a 6.16 ERA ... Alli Beery is the squad’s top pitcher with a 4-10 record and a 6.00 ERA over 70.0 innings of work ... She has one complete game shutout to her credit, but has only struck out 19 batters while walking 37 ... Ball State has dominated the series as of late, winning the last 14 games to improve to 49-39-1 all-time versus Toledo ... Last season, the Cardinals scored 15-8 and 5-2 wins over the Rockets in a May 4 doubleheader at the BSU Softball Complex ... Toledo’s last victory in the series came by the score of 3-1 on April 4, 2005.
► WEEKLY AWARD WINNERS: For the second consecutive week, freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach was named the MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week and sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox earned MAC West Division Player of the Week honors ... The duo also swept the awards on March 19 ... The Cardinals have had at least one MAC weekly award winner in each of its six weekends of play this season, while sweeping the award in the first, fifth and sixth 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 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 .385 (15-for-38) batting average and has also drawn six walks for a .467 on-base percentage ... Her 10 runs scored are tied for second on the team over the past 11 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 (March 16), 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 fifth among the league’s starters with a 2.27 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 16th 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 27 RBI and 26 runs scored through Ball State’s first 24 games, Jennifer Gilbert has accounted for 45 of BSU’s 167 runs so far this season (factoring out eight RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 137 career games, Gilbert has amassed 142 career RBI (1.04 per game) and 131 runs scored (0.96 per game) ... Her 141 RBI are second in program history, while her 131 runs scored are third.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: In addition to leading the squad with 27 RBI this season, Jennifer Gilbert tops the squad with a .500 (12-for-24) batting average with runners in scoring position ... Over her career, Gilbert has posted a .377 (57-for-151) batting average with runners in scoring position to lead all active players ... Senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter has also impressed when it comes time to drive in runs, owning a .358 (83-for-232) career average with runners in scoring position, including a .414 (12-for-29) 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 10 doubles this season, the Ball State offense paces the MAC with 51 doubles so far in 2013 ... Carpenter is currently second in program history with 43 career doubles ... Jennifer Gilbert, who has seven doubles so far this season is third on BSU’s career doubles list at 41 ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 119 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 3.03 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 4.53 ERA in 29.1 innings which includes five 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 23rd in the nation with its Mid-American Conference leading .321 team batting average, while its 2.13 double-per-game average is first nationally ... The Cardinals’ offense also ranks in the top 25 nationally in scoring (6.96/11th) and slugging percentage (.509/20th) ... On defense, Ball State is fourth in the nation with its 0.67 double plays turned per game.
► INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS: Jennifer Gilbert entered the week ranked 17th nationally with her .461 batting average ... She was also 21st in slugging percentage (.868), 22nd in runs per game (1.08), 24th in on base percentage (.543), 31st in home runs per game (0.33) and 38th in RBI per game (1.13) ... Amanda Carpenter entered the week ranked 10th nationally with her 0.43 doubles-per-game average and is the 104th hardest batter in the nation to strikeout, while junior third baseman Audrey Bickel ranks 19th in walks per game (0.88) ... Complete national rankings for the 2013 Ball State squad can be found on page 14 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) ... Bowling Green is eighth at 38-49 (.437) and Toledo is 12th at 21-65 (.244).