► LET THE GAMES BEGIN: Due to cold weather predicted for Friday in San Marcos, Texas, Ball State's season-opener versus Southern Illinois has been pushed back to a 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT first pitch ... In addition, the Cardinals are now scheduled to play two games on both Saurday and Sunday ... The current schedule has Ball State slated to play Texas State (1:15 p.m ET/12:15 p.m. CT) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT) Saturday ... Sunday, the Cardinals are slated to battle SIU (10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT) and Stephen F. Austin (Noon ET/11 a.m. CT) ... Check BallStateSports.com or the CenturyLink Classic Tournament Central tomorrow for any future updates to the tournament schedule.
► FOLLOW THE ACTION: Cardinals fans can follow the action at the CenturyLink Classic with live stats for all five games and streaming video for the match up versus Texas State at the tournament central page: http://www.txstatebobcats.com/sports/2014/1/30/SB_0130145125.aspx
Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStSoftball and Facebook: BallStateSoftball.
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 37-17 overall record in 2013, the Ball State softball program enters the 2014 season with an 854-915-4 (.483) all-time record in 39 seasons of play ... Established as a varsity program in 1975, Ball State has won four Mid-American Conference regular season titles (2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013), two MAC Tournament championships (1998 and 2010) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice (1998 and 2010).
► HEAD COACH TYRA PERRY: A two-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year (2009 & 2013), Tyra Perry was named the eighth head coach in Ball State softball history Aug. 6, 2013 ... Perry enters her 13th season as a NCAA Division I softball head coach with 342 career victories during six-year stints at both Western Kentucky (2008-13) and Birmingham-Southern (2002-07) ... In 2013, Perry guided WKU to the program’s first-ever NCAA Regional appearance and to a final ranking of 26th in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the highest final ranking in program history ... The Lady Toppers also posted the program’s first 40-plus win season (43-18) under Perry’s tutelage in 2013, and earned its first SBC regular season title with a 20-3 league record.
► OFF TO AN EARLY START: When the Cardinals take the field versus Southern Illinois Friday, it will mark the earliest start to a season in program history ... Prior to this season, the earliest Ball State had played a softball game was Feb. 12, 2005 ... Ironically, the match up was also versus Southern Illinois, with the Salukies pulling out an 8-0 victory in six innings at the Ole Miss Tournament.
► SCOUTING THE CARDINALS: Ball State returns 14 letterwinners, including six starting position players and two starting pitchers, from last season’s squad which posted a 37-17 (18-3 MAC) record and won the program’s fourth MAC regular season title in the past five years ... Highlighting the list of returning players are two-time reigning MAC Player of the Year Jennifer Gilbert (Sr./OF), reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Nicole Steinbach (So./P), First Team All-MAC selection Taylor Rager (Sr./1B) and MAC All-Freshman Team honoree Selena Reyna (So./SS) ... The Cardinals also welcome six newcomers to the roster in sophomore transfer Samantha Jones (1B/OF) and freshmen Amanda Arnett (3B), Taylor Cooley (OF), Hayley Cruthers (Util), Jocelyn Rivera (RHP) and Shelbie Scamihorn (C).
► THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: The Salukies are picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Coaches Poll ... SIU returns 14 letterwinners, including seven position starters and two pitchers, from last season’s squad which posted a 25-27 (13-10 MVC) record ... Representing the Salukies on the MVC Preseason All-Conference Team are senior Jayna Spivey and junior Meredith Wilson ... The Salukies hold a 10-6 edge in the all-time series, including a 1-0 victory in the most recent meeting Feb. 21, 2010
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN: The Ladyjacks were selected to finish ninth, among 10 teams, in both the Southland Conference’s Preseason Coaches and Sports Information Directors polls ... SFA returns seven starting position players and one starting pitcher from last season’s squad which posted a 16-32 (9-17 SLC) record ... Senior shortstop Elizabeth Arana was named to the 2014 All-Southland Conference Preseason Softball Team ... The Ladyjacks hold a 4-2 lead in the all-time series despite the Cardinals winning the latest meeting by a score of 1-0 March 11, 1989 ... The teams also split a March 7, 1989 doubleheader with BSU winning the first game 1-0 and SFA taking the second by the same score.
TEXAS STATE: The Bobcats were tabbed to finish fourth in the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Coaches Poll ... Texas State returns 10 letterwinners from last season’s squad which posted an 18-38 overall record, including a 10-11 mark in the Western Athletic Conference ... The Cardinals and Bobcats will be meeting for the first time in softball.
TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI: The Islanders were chosen to finish 10th in both the Southland Conference’s Preseason Coaches and Sports Information Directors polls ... The Islanders return 12 letterwinners from last season’s squad which posted an 11-39 (6-21 SLC) record ... Junior utility player Lindsey Lyles was named to the preseason All-Southland Conference Second Team ... The Cardinals and Islanders will be meeting for the first time in softball.
► ONE TO WATCH: Ball State senior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert was one of 50 NCAA Division I players selected for the 2014 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List as announced by the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America and USA Softball ... Now in its 13th year, the award is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by collegiate softball players across the country ... The list includes 24 seniors, 20 juniors and six sophomores ... Freshmen are ineligible for consideration for the initial Top 50 list. Gilbert is the lone representative from the Mid-American Conference.
► MORE PRESEASON HONORS: In addition to being named to the Top 50 Watch list, Jennifer Gilbert was also named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-America Second Team ... College Sports Madness also named Gilbert the Madness 2014 Mid-American Conference Preseason Field Player of the Year, while Ball State head coach Tyra Perry was named the Preseason MAC Coach of the Year ... Gilbert and senior first baseman Taylor Rager were also named to the Madness 2014 Preseason All-MAC First Team.
► GILBERT NAMED A 2013 NFCA ALL-AMERICAN: Jennifer Gilbert became the first player in program history to earn all-America honors when she was named to the 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches Association NCAA Division I All-America Third Team ... Gilbert is the 13th different player in MAC history to earn NFCA All-America honors and the first since Kent State’s Marci Ridenbaugh was named to the third team in 2001 ... In all, MAC student-athletes have garnered a total of 17 NFCA All-America honors since 1988 which includes two first-team selections, nine second-team awards and six third team accolades.
► 2013 MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: In 2013, Jennifer Gilbert was named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive season ... She is just the fourth player in MAC history to earn the league’s top honor twice in a career, joining Central Michigan’s Pam Stanley (1991 & 1992), Central Michigan’s Tina Kinney (1998 & 2000) and Eastern Michigan’s Lauren Clark (2006 & 2007) ... Overall, Ball State players have garnered MAC Player of the Year honors six times: Bernie Coffman (1989), Katie Shea (2002), Alicia Barkley (2009), Jessie Ware (2010) and Gilbert (2012 & 2013).
► GILBERT IN MAC PLAY: Jennifer Gilbert earned her second straight MAC Player of the Year award in 2013 by ranking second in league-only contests with a .446 batting average, while ranking first in slugging percentage (.973), RBI (34), runs scored (23), home runs (11) and total bases (72) ... Her 34 RBI were 11 better than the next closest player, while her 23 runs scored were three better than second place, both of which were teammates ... Gilbert reached base safely in 19 of BSU’s 21 league games, while also posting a 14-game hitting streak in MAC action ... Gilbert posted six game-winning RBI, scored two game-winning runs and blasted a pair of seventh-inning, game-tying home runs to play a crucial role in 10 of BSU’s 18 league victories.
► 2013 MAC FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: On the strength of her 9-1 record and 2.06 ERA in Mid-American Conference play, Nicole Steinbach became the first player in program history to win MAC Freshman of the Year accolades ... A six-time MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honoree in 2013, Steinbach held opposing MAC teams to three-or-fewer hits in five starts, while holding teams to three-or-fewer runs in nine of her 11 league appearances.
► 2013 ALL-MAC TEAMS: In addition to earning their specialty awards, Jennifer Gilbert was named to the All-MAC First Team, while Nicole Steinbach was named to the All-MAC Second Team and MAC All-Freshman Team ... Taylor Rager joined Gilbert on the All-MAC First Team, while senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter joined Steinbach on the All-MAC Second Team ... In addition, shortstop Selena Reyna was also named to the MAC All-Freshman squad.
► THE RAGER FACTOR: In addition to being the program’s record holder in double plays turned at 51, Taylor Rager is also quickly climbing up BSU’s career offensive charts ... Based on the strength of her .404 batting average in 2013, Rager has moved into fourth in program history with a .349 career batting average ... Her 28 career home runs rank third in BSU annals, while her 132 career RBI are fourth and her 38 career doubles are fifth.
QUICK HITS FROM 2013
► Ball State has won the MAC regular season title in four of the past five years, and last advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2010.
► Ball State’s 18-3 MAC record in 2013 tied the 2009 squad for the best league record in program history.
► Ball State finished the 2013 season ranked in the top 25 nationally in nearly every major offensive category; doubles per game (4th/1.78), scoring (9th/6.56), slugging percentage (14th/.508), home runs per game (15th/1.24) and batting average (25th/.307).
► For the first time in program history, two players finished the season batting above .400, with Jennifer Gilbert batting .451 and Taylor Rager batting .404 ... Ball State was one of only 10 programs (out of 289) nationally to have two players bat .400-or-better.
► Jennifer Gilbert smashed a school-record 23 home runs in 2013, while her MAC-record 70 RBI allowed her to become the league’s career RBI leader as just a junior.
► The Ball State defense ranked fourth nationally with a 0.56 double plays per game average, turning 30 double plays in 54 games.
► The Ball State softball team was heavily rewarded for its 2013 Mid-American Conference regular season title run, claiming three of the league’s five specialty awards and a league-high nine overall honors.
► The Ball State softball team led the Mid-American Conference with eight MAC West Division Player of the Week selections and seven MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honors in 2013 ... Jennifer Gilbert earned the division’s player of the week nod four times, while Nicole Steinbach was a six-time pitcher of the week honoree ... Overall, the Cardinals had at least one MAC weekly award winner in 10 of its 12 weeks of play, while sweeping the award five times; Feb. 19, March 19, March 25, April 1 and April 15 ... Gilbert and Steinbach combined for three of the sweeps; Feb. 19, April 1 and April 15.