► THIS WEEK IN BALL STATE SOFTBALL: The Ball State softball team concludes the road portion of its 2013 Mid-American Conference slate this weekend, starting with a Friday doubleheader at Central Michigan (2 p.m.) and ending with single games at Eastern Michigan Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).
► LISTEN LIVE: Ball State Sports Link Radio WCRD 91.3 FM will continue its coverage of Ball State softball this weekend with Torey Fox (play-by-play) bringing fans the action LIVE over the airwaves on WCRD 91.3 FM in Muncie and online at 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 also 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
► THINK PINK AUCTION: Ball State softball fans, you saw the jerseys on the field this past Sunday versus Miami, now it’s time to BID, BID, BID in the BSU Think Pink Auction ... In support of cancer awareness, the Cardinals are auctioning off the special pink jerseys (donated in part by Country Shack) from Sunday’s doubleheader with the proceeds going to Cancer Services of East Central Indiana - Little Red Door ... Other auction items include gift cards from local businesses and a Breast Cancer Awareness Luggage Set ... Fans can start their bidding now by visiting http://ballstatesports.com/softball and clicking on the link to the Think Pink Auction which runs until Friday, April 26 at 5 p.m.
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After a 5-2 win at Indiana Tuesday, the Ball State softball program enters the weekend with an 847-911-4 (.482) all-time record 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).
► TOURNAMENT BOUND: Thanks to its 6-0 win in the nightcap of last Sunday’s doubleheader versus Miami (April 21), the Ball State softball team became the first league school to officially punch its ticket to the 2013 Mid-American Conference Tournament at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio, May 8-11 ... With a 13-1 MAC record, the Cardinals have locked up one of the eight MAC Tournament spots, as Buffalo (5-9), Akron (4-10), Toledo (6-10) and Eastern Michigan (2-12) cannot catch Ball State ... Buffalo and Toledo each have six games remaining, while Akron and Eastern Michigan have eight games left.
► HEAD COACH CRAIG NICHOLSON: The fastest coach in program history to eclipse the 100 and 200-win marks, Craig Nicholson picked up his 950th collegiate coaching victory with a 10-4 win over Western Michigan April 7 ... In his seventh season as Ball State’s head coach, Nicholson has amassed a 234-158 (.597) record at BSU, including a 95-45 (.679) 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 957-248 (.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 weekend with a 30-13 overall record and a 13-1 MAC mark ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the MAC at the plate with a .478 (66-for-138) batting average, 19 home runs, 58 RBI and 46 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown a league-best five of complete game shutouts, owns a team-best 2.33 ERA and is limiting opposing batters to a .241 average ... As a team, the Cardinals own a MAC-best .318 batting average and rank fourth in the league with a 2.92 ERA ... BSU’s opponents are batting .255 and have a 6.23 ERA in the circle.
► RPI UPDATE: Based on the strength of its 29-13 record entering the week, the Ball State softball team was ranked 57th in this week’s NCAA RPI ranking ... The Cardinals’ highest ranking of the season came last week (April 15), with BSU holding the No. 50 slot among the 291 ranked NCAA Division I softball programs ... In the first RPI rankings released March 24th, the Cardinals were listed 85th ... BSU was 72nd on April 1 and 57th April 8 ... Ball State is the top-ranked team in the Mid-American Conference with Kent State second at 106 ... The Cardinals are also the second-best team in the state of Indiana, trailing only Notre Dame (49th).
► SCOUTING CENTRAL MICHIGAN (NCAA RPI - 108) - The Chippewas enter the weekend with a 25-14 overall record, including an 11-3 mark in Mid-American Conference play ... CMU, which is second in the MAC West Division trailing only Ball State, suffered an 11-0 (5 inn.) loss at Michigan Tuesday ... Central Michigan enters the weekend ranked third in the MAC with a .286 batting average led by Macy Merchant’s .405 mark ... Merchant also leads the squad with 29 runs scored ... In the circle, the Chippewas are second in the MAC with a 2.44 team ERA ... Kara Dornbos is CMU’s top pitcher with a 2.28 ERA and a 10-9 record in 21 appearances ... Over 122.2 innings, Dornbos has tallied 55 strikeouts and issued 35 walks ... Central Michigan holds a 67-23 advantage in the all-time series despite Ball State scoring wins in the last three meetings ... Last season, the Cardinals posted 4-0 (April 21) and 9-6 (April 22) wins over the Chippewas in Muncie.
► SCOUTING EASTERN MICHIGAN (NCAA RPI - 216) - The Eagles enter the weekend with a 12-29-1 overall record and are fighting to stay alive in the race to the MAC Tournament with a 2-12 league mark ... EMU went 1-3 last weekend in league play, splitting a Friday doubleheader with Toledo by scores of 8-13 and 14-13 (8 inn.), before being swept by Bowling Green by scores of 0-4 and 1-6 ... EMU will host Miami in a Friday twin bill before the Cardinals travel to Ypsilanti ... Eastern Michigan entered the week ranked seventh in the MAC with a .257 team batting average ... Katy Blaharski and Amanda Herron are tied for the team lead with .333 averages ... Blaharski is also tied for the team-high with 24 runs scored, while Herron is second on the squad with 22 RBI ... In the circle, the Eagles are last in the MAC with a 5.56 team ERA ... Jenna Ignowski is EMU’s top pitcher with a team-high 108.1 innings of work in which she has posted a 5.36 ERA, 74 strikeouts and a 7-7 record ... Ball State holds a 56-36 advantage in the all-time series, including wins in 11 of the last 12 meetings ... Earlier this season, the Cardinals scored a 9-1 (6 inn.) win over the Eagles on March 2 in the FAU Classic ... Last season, BSU swept an April 20 doubleheader at the BSU Softball Complex by scores of 10-7 and 9-5.
► THE MAC AWARDS: Despite not having a league weekly award winner for the first time this season, the Ball State softball team still leads the Mid-American Conference with eight MAC West Division Player of the Week selections and six MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honors ... Junior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert has earned the division’s player of the week nod four times this season, while freshman Nicole Steinbach is a five-time pitcher of the week honoree ... Overall, the Cardinals have had at least one MAC weekly award winner in nine of its 10 weeks of play this season, while sweeping the award five times; Feb. 19, March 19, March 25, April 1 and April 15 ... Gilbert and Steinbach have combined for three of the sweeps; Feb. 19, April 1 and April 15.
► 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 ... Gilbert has tallied a Ball State and Mid-American Conference single-season record 19 home runs this season to raise her career total to 52 ... The total is second in MAC history, trailing only Kelli Metzger’s (1996-99 for Akron) career mark of 57.
► RECORD BREAKER PART 2: With her third career grand slam in the eighth inning of game two of the April 12 doubleheader at Akron, Jennifer Gilbert became the MAC’s all-time career RBI leader … Gilbert enters the weekend with 173 career RBI which is six better than the previous league standard of 167 set by Kelli Metzger from 1996-99.
► ON THE NCAA STATS FRONT: Jennifer Gilbert entered the week ranked first among all NCAA Division I players with a 1.38 RBI-per-game average, while her 58 RBI this season were second in the nation, trailing only Megan Baltzell’s (Longwood) total of 61 … In addition, Gilbert ranked third in the nation in batting average (.493), third in home runs per game (0.45), fourth in home runs (19), fourth in slugging percentage (.993), 11th in on base percentage (0.563) and 20th in runs per game (1.10).
► DOUBLING UP: Led by senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter’s MAC-best 15 doubles this season, the Ball State offense entered the week ranked third in the nation with a 1.88 doubles-per-game average ... Carpenter, who currently ranks second in program history with 48 career doubles, was seventh among all NCAA Division I players with her 0.37 doubles per game average ... As a team, the Cardinals have tallied 79 doubles this season which was 22 more than the next closest team in the MAC in Northern Illinois at 57 ... Ball State collected a program and MAC single-season record 100 doubles in 2012.
► MORE FROM CENTER FIELD: In addition to ranking second in program history with 48 career doubles, Amanda Carpenter is third in BSU annals in career hits (219) and RBI (145), while ranking fourth in career runs scored (138) and home runs (21) ... She boasts a .981 career fielding percentage, with 301 putouts and 10 outfield assists compared to just six errors ... In fact, Carpenter has played 98 consecutive games without an error.
► DOUBLING UP PART 2: The Ball State defense has also picked up where it left off in 2012, turning 25 double plays so far this season ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in 21 of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 50 career double plays turned ... Sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox has been involved in 13 of the twin killings this season, raising her career total to 36 which is second in program history ... BSU entered the week ranked fourth in the nation with a 0.57 double plays-per-game average this season ... Last season, the BSU defense led the nation with both 33 double plays turned and a 0.60 double plays-per-game average.
► THE RAGER FACTOR: In addition to being the program’s record holder in double plays turned, Taylor Rager is also quickly climbing up BSU’s career offensive charts ... Based on the strength of her .420 batting average this season, Rager has moved into fourth in program history with a .350 career batting average ... Her 24 career home runs rank third in BSU annals, while her 117 career RBI and 35 career doubles are both fifth.
►MOVING UP THE ORDER: Sophomore designated player/right fielder Loren Cihlar has been one of the hottest hitters on the team as of late, ranking third on the squad over the past 15 games with a .395 batting average ... The effort helped her move from the nine slot on the score card to the top of the order last weekend ... Only Jennifer Gilbert and Taylor Rager have higher averages over the span at .468 and .444, respectively ... Over the past 15 games, Cihlar has racked up 17 hits, including three doubles and a triple ... She has scored nine runs and tallied five RBI, while also drawing four walks and posting a .447 on base percentage.
► STEINBACH DOMINATING THE CIRCLE: Ball State’s ace in the circle, Nicole Steinbach has been very impressive in her debut season having earned five MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honors ... In her 25 appearances, Steinbach has held teams to four-or-less hits 12 times and surrendered two-or-less earned runs 18 times ... She currently leads the league with five complete game shutouts, including two in MAC play ... She recorded a career-best 10 strikeouts versus Creighton (Feb. 22) and has tallied five-or-more Ks in an appearance nine times ... Over 132.1 innings of work, Steinbach has limited opposing batters to a .241 average and has recorded 91 strikeouts, both team-highs.
► THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Ball State offense entered the week ranked 21st in the nation with its MAC-leading .321 team batting average, while its 1.88 doubles-per-game average is third nationally ... The Cardinals offense also ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring (6.90/11th), slugging percentage (.526/15th) and home runs (1.24/16th) ... Complete national rankings for the 2013 Ball State squad can be found on page 15.
► NCAA ACTIVE CAREER LEADERS: Jennifer Gilbert’s 52 career home runs placed her ninth among all active NCAA Division I players entering the week, while her 173 career RBI ranked 13th ... Gilbert also ranked in the top 25 in slugging percentage (.792/11th), doubles (44/16th) and runs scored (151/22nd) ... Amanda Carpenter entered the week ranked eighth among all active players with 48 doubles, while placing in the top 35 in at bats (668/15th), hits per game (.328/28th), runs scored (138/32nd) and RBI (145/29th).
► OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS IN THE MAC: Over the past four-plus seasons, Ball State softball has proven to be one of the MAC’s premier programs by racking up a league-best 78-20 (.796) conference record during the span ... Miami is second on the list at 66-36 (.647) followed by Kent State at 64-37 (.634) ... Central Michigan is sixth at 51-47 (.520) and Eastern Michigan is 10th at 37-62 (.373).