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Softball Opens Home Slate Today vs. Northern Illinois
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► THIS WEEK IN BALL STATE SOFTBALL: After opening the week with a non-conference doubleheader at IPFW Wednesday at 3 p.m., the Ball State softball team will finally open the home portion of its 2013 schedule Friday with a 1 p.m. Mid-American Conference twin bill versus Northern Illinois ... The Cardinals will then host Western Michigan for single games Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).

► LISTEN LIVE: Ball State Sports Link Radio and WCRD 91.3 FM continues its coverage of Ball State softball this week with all six games scheduled to be carried live either over the air or online ... Torey Fox and Andy Wright will combine to bring you the action live from both IPFW and the BSU Softball Complex ... 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 this week 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 opening league play with a 4-0 mark last week, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 835-908-4 (.479) 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 222-155 (.589) record at BSU, including an 86-44 (.662) 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 945-245 (.794) career coaching record including his 723-90 mark in 11 years at Central Arizona.

► SCHEDULE UPDATE: Wednesday’s scheduled single game at IPFW has been changed to a doubleheader still starting at 3 p.m. ... Ball State will 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 week with an 18-10 overall record and a 4-0 MAC mark ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the Cardinals at the plate with a .484 (44-for-91) batting average, 12 home runs, 34 RBI and 33 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown three of complete game shutouts, owns a team-best 2.23 ERA and is limiting opposing batters to a .236 average ... As a team, the Cardinals own a MAC-best .324 batting average, while its 2.99 ERA is fourth in the conference ... BSU’s opponents are batting a combined .262 and have a 6.11 ERA in the circle.

► SCOUTING THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS

IPFW - The Mastodons enter the week with a 12-6 overall record, including a 2-0 mark in The Summit League ... Last week, IPFW scored a pair of Friday wins over Western Illinois by scores of 11-3 (6 inn.) and 9-1 (5 inn.) in games played at Trine University ... Prior to those two games, the Mastodons had not played since March 10, having 12 games cancelled over that span due to weather or field conditions ... The Mastodons boast a potent offense with a .322 team batting average and are scoring 5.83 runs per game ... Ashleigh Bousquet and Larissa Franklin are tied for the team batting lead with .431 averages, while Brittany Kachur is right behind at .429 ... In the circle, the IPFW staff has a combined 3.44 ERA led by Miranda Kramer who has a 2.46 ERA, 76 strikeouts and a 7-3 record over 57.0 innings of work ... Ball State holds a 7-4 advantage in the all-time series versus the Mastodons despite IPFW scoring a 5-4 win in the most recent meeting April 6, 2010.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS - The Huskies, who were picked to finish fifth in the MAC West Division in the league’s preseason poll, enter the week with an 11-18 overall record and 1-1 MAC mark after opening league play with a weekend split versus Western Michigan ... NIU won the first game by a score of 12-5 last Friday, before dropping the second 7-6 Saturday ... NIU will play at Illinois State Wednesday before coming to Muncie for Friday’s doubleheader ... Northern Illinois enters the week ranked sixth in the MAC with a .250 team batting average ... Among the Huskies’ everyday starters, Nicole Gremillion has a team-best .330 batting average with 23 runs scored and 15 RBI ... NIU’s pitching staff ranks sixth in the league with a 3.30 team ERA led by Jessica Sturm who has a 2.85 ERA, 40 strikeouts and a 7-7 record over 93.1 innings of work ... Northern Illinois holds a 36-23 advantage in the all-time series versus Ball State after the team’s split a pair of games last season ... NIU won the first game 12-5 on March 31, while the Cardinals rebounded for a thrilling 11-10 (8 inn.) victory April 1.

WESTERN MICHIGAN - The Broncos, who were picked to finish third in the MAC West Division in the league’s preseason poll, enter the week with a 10-17 overall record and a 1-1 MAC mark after opening league play with a weekend split at Northern Illinois ... After dropping the opener to the Huskies by a score of 12-5 last Friday, the Broncos responded with a 7-6 win Saturday ... Prior to the series versus Ball State, WMU will play a doubleheader at Miami Friday ... Western Michigan enters the week rank ninth in the league with a .245 team batting average led by Melissa Palmer who is hitting .333 and has a team-best 21 runs scored ... The Broncos pitching staff ranks 10th in the league with a 4.95 team ERA ... Becca Shemberger is WMU’s top pitcher with a 4.12 ERA, 73 strikeouts and a 5-8 record over 66.1 innings of work ... Western Michigan holds a 60-45 edge in the all-time series versus Ball State, including a 3-1 win in MAC Tournament action last season (May 10) ... The teams did not play during the regular season, as the doubleheader scheduled for March 30 was rained out.

► WEEKLY AWARD WINNERS: Freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach was named the MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week for the third consecutive week Monday, while junior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert picked up her third MAC West Division Player of the Week honor this season ... Steinbach has claimed the division’s top weekly pitching honor four times so far this season, while Gilbert is a seven-time career MAC West Division Player of the Week award winner ... The Cardinals have had at least one MAC weekly award winner in each of its seven weekends of play this season, while sweeping the award in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh weeks.

► ITS GONE, GONE, GONE, GONE: Jennifer Gilbert turned in one of the best hitting displays of her career at Toledo (March 30), launching four home runs and batting .750 (6-for-8) with a double, seven RBI, six runs scored and a 2.375 slugging percentage over the course of the doubleheader ... She also drew an intentional walk ... The performance brought back memories of last season’s doubleheader at Miami (April 15) when Gilbert hit .833 (5-for-6) with three home runs, a triple and a double to go along with three walks, seven runs scored, six RBI and a 2.833 slugging percentage.

► 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), Jennifer Gilbert became the program’s career home run leader ... With her four home runs last Saturday at Toledo (March 30), Gilbert has blasted 12 home runs this season to raise her career total to 45 which ranks third in Mid-American Conference history and is tied for 12th 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.

► A RUN PRODUCING MACHINE: With 34 RBI and 33 runs scored through Ball State’s first 28 games, Jennifer Gilbert has accounted for 55 of BSU’s 198 runs so far this season (factoring out 12 RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 141 career games, Gilbert has amassed 149 career RBI (1.06 per game) and 138 runs scored (0.98 per game) to rank second and third in program history, respectively.

► FROM THE NCAA STATS FRONT: In addition to ranking sixth among all NCAA Division I players with her .484 batting average, Jennifer Gilbert is one of only five players in the country to rank in the top 25 nationally in runs per game (6th at 1.18) and RBI per game (12th at 1.21) ... Gilbert also ranks fifth in home runs per game (0.43) and sixth in slugging percentage (0.967).

► DRIVING THEM HOME: In addition to leading the squad with 34 RBI this season, Jennifer Gilbert tops the squad with a .500 (13-for-26) batting average with runners in scoring position ... Over her career, Gilbert has posted a .379 (58-for-153) 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 .359 (85-for-237) career average with runners in scoring position, including a .412 (14-for-34) effort this season.

► DOUBLING UP: Led by Amanda Carpenter’s MAC-best 13 doubles this season, the Ball State offense paces the MAC with 61 doubles so far in 2013 ... Carpenter is currently second in program history with 46 career doubles and enters the week ranked first nationally with her 0.48 doubles-per-game average this season ... Jennifer Gilbert, who has eight doubles so far this season, is third on BSU’s career doubles list at 42 ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 122 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 20 double plays so far this season, including four to open league play last weekend ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in 18 of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 47 career double plays turned ... Sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox has had a hand in 11 of the twin killings this season, raising her career total to 35 which is second in program history ... BSU enters the week ranked third in the nation with a 0.71 average this season, while its 20 double plays turned are tied for fifth ... 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 fourth in the Mid-American Conference with a 2.99 team ERA, led by freshmen Nicole Steinbach (2.23) and Kelsey Schifferdecker (3.52) ... 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 4.40 ERA in 35.0 innings which includes five starts and six relief appearances, as well as a complete game shutout versus Florida A&M (March 8).

► MORE ON STEINBACH: Ball State’s ace in the circle, Nicole Steinbach has been very impressive in her debut season have already earned four MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honors ... In her 17 appearances this season, Steinbach has held teams to four-or-less hits seven times and surrendered two-or-less earned runs 12 times ... She recorded a career-best 10 strikeouts versus Creighton (Feb. 22) and has tallied five-or-more Ks in an appearance eight times ... Over 94.1 innings of work, Steinbach is limiting opposing batters to a .236 average to rank seventh in the MAC, while her 73 strikeouts are fourth in the league ... In addition, her three complete game shutouts are tied for first among all MAC pitchers.

► THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Ball State offense enters the week ranked 19th in the nation with its MAC leading .324 team batting average, while its 2.18 doubles-per-game average is first nationally ... The Cardinals offense also ranks in the top 25 nationally in scoring (7.07/seventh) and slugging percentage (.519/12th) ... 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 69-19 (.784) conference record during the span ... Miami is second on the list at 59-33 (.614) followed by Kent State at 56-33 (.629) ... Western Michigan’s 50-35 (.588) league-only record is fifth, while Northern Illinois is sixth at 43-43 (.500).

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