► THIS WEEK IN BALL STATE SOFTBALL: The Ball State softball team begins the busiest stretch of the 2014 season Friday, when it opens a five-day, seven-game swing in the state of Arizona ... First up for the Cardinals is the Louisville Slugger Invitational hosted by Arizona State ... The Cardinals open the three-day event Friday with games versus South Carolina (2:30 pm MST) and FIU (4:45 pm MST) ... Ball State will play Detroit (10 am MST) and No. 19 Minnesota (2:30 pm MST) Saturday, before Sunday’s showdown versus host No. 3 Arizona State (1:30 pm MST) ... BSU’s Arizona trip ends Tuesday with a doubleheader at No. 10 Arizona (4 pm MST).
► FOLLOW THE ACTION: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals in Arizona with live stats at the following link: http://ballstatesports.com/livestats ... Fans can watch Ball State’s games at No. 3 Arizona State and at No. 10 Arizona live at: http://pac-12.com ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStateSB - Instagram: ballstatesb - Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 3-0 record at last weekend’s Blues City Classic, the Ball State softball program enters the week with an 861-917-4 (.484) all-time record in 39-plus 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 the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 349-346-1 (.502) career record, including a 7-2 ledger so far in her first season at Ball State ... Prior to coming to Ball State, Perry had six-year head coaching 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.
► SCOUTING THE CARDINALS: The Ball State softball team enters the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 7-2 overall record after posting a perfect 3-0 mark at last weekend’s Blues City Classic ... Junior right fielder Loren Cihlar leads a group of four Cardinals batting .400-or-better with a .419 average ... Senior third baseman Audrey Bickel is second on the list at .414 ... The Ball State offense currently leads the league with a .355 average, having racked up 89 hits in 251 at bats, including seven home runs which is tied for second in the conference ... In the circle, sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker owns a spotless 4-0 record and threw the Cardinals’ first complete game shutout of the season versus George Mason (Feb. 16) ... Schifferdecker owns a 2.05 ERA over 30.2 innings of work and has struck out 13 batters while issuing just six walks ... As a staff, Ball State’s pitchers have a combined 2.46 ERA which is fifth in the MAC.
► THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks enter the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 13-2 overall record after sweeping a Tuesday doubleheader versus Western Carolina by scores of 6-3 and 5-0 ... Ansley Ard leads the squad with a .417 batting average, while Kaylea Snaer is a close second at .413 ... Snaer has a team-best .761 slugging percentage thanks in part to five doubles, a triple and three home runs ... Julie Sarratt is South Carolina’s top pitcher statistically, with a 0.76 ERA and 58 strikeouts over 46.0 innings of work ... She also owns a 5-1 record and three saves, while Nickie Blue is 8-1 in the circle and has two saves for the Gamecocks ... As a team, the Gamecocks are batting .287 while their opponents are batting .199 ... South Carolina holds a 2-1 edge in the all-time series including a pair of wins in 1992 ... The last meeting was a 6-2 Gamecocks victory March 1, 1992.
FIU: The Panthers enter the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 12-4 overall record after splitting a Tuesday doubleheader with Eastern Michigan ... FIU won the first game 6-2, before losing the second 5-4 in eight innings ... Stephanie Texeira leads the squad with a .444 batting average, while Krystal Garcia is second at .390 ... Both players have six doubles and three home runs on the year, with Garcia also adding a triple ... In the circle, Cor Jenkins has owns a perfect 6-0 record and a team-best 1.35 ERA ... Over 46.2 innings of work, Jenkis also has 26 strikeouts ... As a team, the Panthers are batting .310, while holding their opponents to a .239 average ... FIU holds a 3-1 lead in the all-time series including wins in both ends of a March 5, 2013 doubleheader ... FIU won the first game 6-4 and the second 4-2 on its home field.
DETROIT: The Titans enter the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 2-7 overall record after dropping three of four games at Southern Miss last weekend by scores of 4-5 (L), 4-3 (W), 0-11 (L) and 0-8 (L) in five innings ... Kat Hoffman leads Detroit with a .364 batting average and has also picked up both pitching wins for the Titans ... Hoffman owns a 2-3 record, a 6.97 ERA and a team-best seven strikeouts in the circle ... As a team, the Titans are batting .206, while opponents are connecting for a .363 average ... Ball State holds a 3-0 advantage in the all-time series which has not seen a game since a 1-0 Cardinals victory April 7, 1984 in a game played at Toledo.
NO. 19 MINNESOTA: The Golden Gophers enter the Louisville Slugger Invitational with a 12-1 record and ranked 19th in the latest USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Poll ... Last weekend, Minnesota went 4-0 at the UNCG Spartan Classic with wins over George Washington (3-0), Army (12-1 in 5 inn.), Hampton (8-0 in 5 inn.) and host UNC Greensboro (8-0 in 5 inn.) ... Tyler Walker leads the squad with a .439 batting average, while Kaitlyn Richardson and Hannah Granger are tied for second at .417 ... In the circle, Sara Moulton has an 8-1 record, a 0.92 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 53.1 innings of work ... As a team, Minnesota is batting .306, while holding opponents to a .184 average ... Minnesota holds a 3-1 lead in the all-time series, including a 3-1 victory in the latest meeting March 1, 2008.
NO. 3 ARIZONA STATE: In his first season as the head coach at Arizona State, former Ball State head coach Craig Nicholson has guided the Sun Devils to a 17-0 record this season and a No. 3 ranking in the latest USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Poll ... At last weekend’s Diamond Devil Invitational, ASU scored wins over Seton Hall (12-1 in 5 inn.), Boston College (3-0), Idaho State (11-1 in 5 inn.), Drake (9-1 in 6 inn.) and Idaho State (13-4 in 5 inn.) ... Amber Freeman leads the Sun Devils regular starters with a .510 batting average, while Alix Johnson is second a .462 ... Dallas Escobedo is ASU’s top pitcher with a 7-0 record, a 0.45 ERA and 81 strikeouts over 47.0 innings of work ... As a team, Arizona State is out-batting opponents .386 to .159 and has a 137 to 21 edge in runs scored ... The Sun Devils won the only previous meeting by a score of 10-0 in five innings Feb. 21, 1998.
NO. 10 ARIZONA: The Wildcats enter the weekend with a 15-1 overall record and ranked 10th in the latest USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Poll ... Arizona scored a pair of midweek wins over UTEP by scores of 11-1 (5 inn.) Tuesday and 14-1 (5 inn.) Wednesday ... Arizona will host the Wildcat Invitational this weekend prior to Tuesday’s (March 4) doubleheader with the Cardinals ... Alex Lavine leads the Wildcats with a .485 batting average, while Kellie Fox is next at .474 and has a team-best seven home runs ... In the circle, Arizona turns to four different pitchers with all of them owning sub-1.20 ERAs ... Nancy Bowling has thrown the most innings at 25.0 and has a 0.88 ERA, a 4-0 record and a team-best 31 strikeouts ... She also owns two of the team’s three complete game shutouts this season ... As a team, Arizona is batting .383, while holding opponents to a .150 average ... Ball State and Arizona will be playing for the first time in softball.
► AND THE RECORDS GO TO: In last Saturday’s win over Murray State, senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert took over sole possession of the MAC career lead in both home runs and runs scored with a third-inning solo shot deep over the center field wall ... Gilbert now stands as the MAC career leader in RBI (194), home runs (58) and runs scored (172) ... Gilbert is also the NCAA Division I active career leader for runs scored and RBI, while her home run total trails only the 61 put up by Oklahoma junior Lauren Chamberlain.
► SENIOR CLASS AWARD: Senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert has been named one of 30 candidates for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award in collegiate softball ... To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition ... The 2014 candidate class will be narrowed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those names will be placed on the official ballot ... The Senior CLASS Award winner will be announced during the 2014 NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City May 29 through June 4 ... For more information on all the candidates, visit seniorCLASSaward.com.
► THREE IN A ROW: The Ball State softball team continues to dominate the league’s weekly awards, picking up at least one honor in each of the three weeks of play this season ... For her effort at last weekend’s Blues City Classic, Jennifer Gilbert was named the MAC West Division Player of the Week for the first time this season and the ninth time in her career ... Sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker was named the MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week in each of the first two weeks of play, making her a three-time career award winner ... Senior first baseman Taylor Rager was also named MAC West Division Player of the Week after opening weekend, marking her third career award ... Last season, the Cardinals had at least one MAC weekly award winner in 10 of its 12 weeks of play, including sweeping the awards five times.
► CHASING THE CANADIAN RECORD: While she only has an slim chance of breaking the NCAA career record of 90 home runs, Jennifer Gilbert needs just eight long balls to become the NCAA career home run leader among Canadian-born players ... The current title of Canada’s top NCAA softball slugger is held by Jen Yee who racked up 65 career home runs while playing for Niagara (2006-07) and Georgia Tech (2009-10) ... Ironically, Gilbert and Yee are currently teammates on the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team and helped guide the squad to a silver medal at the VII Women’s Pan American Championship (Aug. 10-18) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
► THE RAGER FACTOR: In addition to being the program’s record holder in double plays turned at 54, Taylor Rager is also quickly climbing up BSU’s career offensive charts ... Based on the strength of her .407 batting average so far this season, Rager is currently fourth in program history with a .352 career batting average ... Her 29 career home runs rank third in BSU annals, while both her 140 career RBI and 42 career doubles are fourth.
► WALK IT OUT: Taylor Rager enters the week tied for seventh in MAC history with 91 career walks, including three this season ... In addition, senior third baseman Audrey Bickel is 24th on the league’s career walks chart at 74, including two in 2014 ... The only other active MAC player ranked in the top 25 on the league’s career walks chart is Ohio senior Raven King with 84 career walks.
► Sophomore pitcher Sammi Cowger enters the week tied for the MAC lead with a 0.00 ERA ... Cowger picked up her first career save versus Morehead State (Feb. 22), throwing the final three innings, allowing just one hit while striking out three ... She also ranks third in the league with a .154 opponents’ batting average ... At the plate, Cowger is tied for 10th in the league with two doubles, including a two-run double which completed the run rule victory over SEMO (Feb. 23).
► At the top of the lineup, junior right fielder Loren Cihlar leads the team and ranks fifth in the conference with a .419 batting average ... She has also drawn four walks to lead the squad and rank sixth in the league with a .486 on base percentage ... Of her team-high 13 hits this season, three have been bunt singles and two others have been infield hits ... She also has a double to the left-center field wall to her credit this season.
► Loren Cihlar remains the top base stealer in program history based on percentage, with a .923 (24-for-26) rate of success ... She is 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts this season, earning her first swipe of the year versus Virginia Tech (Feb. 16).
► After serving mainly as a pinch hitter/runner last season, sophomore Emily Dabkowski has stepped nicely into the starting role at second base for the Cardinals in 2014 ... She is one of only two players to reach base safely in all nine of Ball State’s games this season and is tied for third in the MAC in runs scored (10) and is tied for fifth in the league in home runs (2) ... Dabkowski showed a flair for the dramatic last Saturday versus Murray State, blasting an eighth inning walk-off two-run homer over the left-center field wall to give BSU the 5-3 victory.
► Junior Hanne Stuedemann enters the week tied for sixth in program history with 16 career home runs, including one this season ... Stuedemann had a second home run versus Stephen F. Austin, but since the game did not finish the blast did not count.
► Sophomore shortstop Selena Reyna has made some spectacular defensive plays this season and enters the weekend with a perfect fielding percentage ... She has 14 putouts and 13 assists so far this year, and has also factored in one of Ball State’s four double plays this season.
► Seven of the nine players in Ball State’s projected lineup for the weekend have at least one career home run ... If you add junior catcher Jessica Craft to the lineup instead of freshman catcher Shelbie Scamihorn, then eight of the nine will have gone yard at least once in their career.
► Senior first baseman Lauren Schroeder blasted her fifth career home run to complete the walk-off, run rule victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Feb. 8) ... Of her five career home runs, one has been a two-run shot, three have been three-run blast, while the fifth was a walk-off grand slam to cap last season’s run rule of Butler ... Of the nine active players with at least one home run, Schroeder is the only one to not have a solo blast.
► Uniform Watch 2014: Ball State enters the week with a 4-1 record in their white uniforms and a 3-1 mark in their black uniforms ... The Cardinals have yet to play in their grey or red uniforms, but both are on the packing list for the trip to Arizona.