► ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Ball State softball team continues its 24-game season opening road swing this weekend with games 5-9 at the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament hosted by Central Arkansas ... The Cardinals open play in the three-day, six-team tournament Friday against Creighton (11 a.m. CT) and Grambling (1 p.m. CT) ... Saturday, BSU will play both Northern Iowa (9 a.m. CT) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3 p.m. CT), before closing out the tournament Sunday against host Central Arkansas (1 p.m. CT).
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals throughout the Central Arkansas Tournament with live stats at the links above ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStSoftball and Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 3-1 record at the KSU Classic hosted by Kennesaw State, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 820-899-4 (.477) in 38 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) ... Entering his seventh season as Ball State's head coach, Nicholson has amassed a 207-146 (.586) 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 (18-3) and repeated the feat in 2010 ... 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 regular season crown in 2012 by virtue of its 17-3 league mark ... Nicholson owns a 930-236 (.798) 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 opened the 2013 season by going 3-1 at last weekend's KSU Classic hosted by Kennesaw State ... Jennifer Gilbert led the Cardinals at the plate with a .750 (9-for-12) batting average, three home runs, 10 RBI and nine runs scored ... In the circle, Nicole Steinbach posted a pair of complete game shutouts, limiting opposing batters to a .103 average while earning 11 strikeouts compared to two walks ... As a team, the Cardinals own a .316 batting average and a 2.96 ERA.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS
CREIGHTON - The Jays enter the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament with a 2-3 record but have not played since suffering a 4-3 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 9 in the finale of the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State ... Kelsey Allender leads the squad with a .417 batting average, while Amy Baker is batting .375 with two home runs ... Becca Changstrom leads the Jays with a 3.44 ERA and 26 strikeouts in the circle, having pitched 18.1 of the team's 31 innings so far this season ... As a team, the Jays own a .265 batting average and a 3.84 ERA ... Creighton holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series with the last meeting coming March 9, 1991.
GRAMBLING - The Lady Tigers enter the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament with a 2-4 record after sweeping a doubleheader versus Texas College Tuesday by scores of 16-0 and 10-2 ... Briana Carmouche is the only GSU player to see action in all six games, boasting a .313 batting average ... Kailey Howard has a team-best 5.57 ERA, having thrown 16.1 innings and collected six strikeouts ... As a team, Grambling is batting .266 and owns a 5.73 ERA ... Friday's game will be the first between Ball State and Grambling State in softball.
NORTHERN IOWA - The Panthers enter the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament with a 3-7 overall record after going 1-4 at last weekend's Arizona State Littlewood Classic ... UNI's lone win came in its tournament opener versus Illinois-Chicago (8-0 in 5 inn.) ... Kristin Lock paces Northern Iowa with a .375 batting average, including one of the team's three home runs ... Despite owning a 1-5 record, Jamie Fisher is UNI's top pitcher, having thrown 38.0 innings with a 3.13 ERA and 26 strikeouts ... As a team, Northern Iowa is batting .194 and owns a 3.39 ERA ... UNI holds a 5-0 advantage in the all-time series versus Ball State, including a 1-0 victory in the last meeting March 2, 2008 in Martin, Tenn.
ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF - The Golden Lions enter the 2013 UCA Softball Tournament with an 0-4 overall record including a pair of losses to both Southern Arkansas (3-18 and 1-5) and Central Arkansas (0-8 and 2-17) ... Jasmine Hardwrick leads UAPB with a .375 batting average and has the team's only home run so far this season ... Lacie Sutterfield has a team-best 7.00 ERA in the circle and owns six of the team's 12 strikeouts ... The Golden Lions are batting .143 as a team this season with a 12.98 team ERA ... Saturday's game will be the first between Ball State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in softball.
CENTRAL ARKANSAS - The Bears enter their own tournament with a 5-5 overall record despite losing three of four games at last weekend's Mardi Gras Invitational hosted by South Alabama ... UCA's lone win at the tournament came versus Mississippi by a score of 4-2 ... Melissa Bryant leads the Bears' regular starters with a .467 batting average, while her twin sister Melanie Bryant has team-highs of 11 RBI and three home runs ... Kelsie Armstrong, who has pitched 46.1 of the team's 64.0 innings, has a 3-4 record, a 2.27 ERA and an impressive 51 strikeouts compared to just five walks ... As a team, Central Arkansas is batting .311 and owns a 3.28 ERA ... Sunday's game will be the first meeting between Ball State and Central Arkansas in softball.
► HOW SWEEP IT IS: The Ball State softball team opened the 2013 season by sweeping the Mid-American Conference West Division weekly honors, with junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert earning MAC West Division Player of the Week and freshman pitcher Nicole Steinbach earning MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week ... This is the fifth career MAC weekly award for Gilbert and the first for Steinbach ... Last season, the Cardinals swept the league's weekly awards three times; Feb. 21 (Audrey Workman - Pitcher / Taylor Rager - Player), March 20 (Workman - Pitcher / Amanda Carpenter - Player) and March 27 (Mazzapica - Pitcher / Amanda Montalto - Player).
► ITS MADNESS: In addition to earning Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honors, junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert was named the Madness Mid-American Conference Softball Player of the Week as awarded by collegesportsmadness.com ... It was the third time in her career Gilbert has picked up the group's weekly MAC honor as she also earned the award twice last season; April 17 and May 1, 2012.
► IN POSITION TO SCORE: The Cardinals posted an impressive .333 (14-for-42) batting average with runners in scoring position last weekend at the KSU Classic ... Junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert led the way with a perfect 4-for-4 effort, while junior first baseman Taylor Rager added a 3-for-5 (.600) mark ... In all, 12 different Ball State batters came up to the plate with runners in scoring position last weekend and nine of them produced at least one hit.
► DRIVING THEM HOME: Over her career, Jennifer Gilbert has posted a .374 (49-for-131) batting average with runners in scoring position ... Only one player on the active roster has a better batting average with runners in scoring position and that is sophomore outfielder Hanne Stuedemann at .392 (20 for 51).
► A RUN PRODUCING MACHINE: With 10 RBI and nine runs scored last weekend, junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert produced 16 of BSU's 33 runs at the KSU Classic (factoring out three RBI for driving herself in on home runs) ... In 117 career games, Gilbert has amassed 125 career RBI (1.07 per game) and 114 runs scored (0.912 per game) ... Her 125 RBI are third in program history, while her 114 RBI are tied for fourth.
► ON PACE TO DO IT AGAIN: With six home runs through the first four games of the season, the Ball State offense is on pace to shatter the BSU and Mid-American Conference single-season home run record of 70 set by the Cardinals last season ... Over a 56-game schedule, the Ball State offense is on pace to go yard 84 times in 2013.
► DOUBLING UP: In addition to blasting six home runs last weekend, the Cardinals collected eight doubles over the four games ... Senior outfielder Amanda Carpenter led the way with three doubles, raising her career total to 36 which is third in program history ... Junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert added one double of her own and is fourth in BSU annals with 35 ... The Cardinals, who are on pace to tally 112 doubles in 2013, collected a BSU single-season record 100 doubles in 2012.
► DOUBLING UP PART 2: The Ball State defense also picked up where it left off in 2012, turning three double plays in its opening weekend ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager had a hand in all three twin killings, moving her into a tie for the top spot in program history with 32 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: Led by freshman hurler Nicole Steinbach's two complete game shutouts, the Ball State pitching staff posted a 2.96 ERA over the first weekend of play ... Steinbach also limited opposing batters to a .103 average, helping the staff as a whole hold opponents to a .230 mark.
► THE K FACTOR: Ball State's pitchers struck out a combined 22 batters, with freshman Nicole Steinbach recording 11, redshirt junior Audra Sanders tallying seven and freshman Kelsey Schifferdecker posting four ... The Cardinals enter the week ranked fifth in the MAC with a 5.92 strikeouts-per-game average.
► PRESEASON AWARDS: Five members of the Ball State softball program were recognized on the College Sports Madness Mid-American Conference Preseason All-Conference Teams ... Leading the way for the Cardinals was junior outfielder Jennifer Gilbert who was named the preseason Field Player of the Year as well as to the preseason all-conference first team ... Freshman Sasha Margulies was the group's preseason pick as the league's Freshman of the Year, while senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter, junior third baseman Audrey Bickel and sophomore right fielder/designated player Hanne Stuedemann were named to the preseason all-conference second team.
► 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).