► THIS WEEK IN BALL STATE SOFTBALL: The Ball State softball teams closes the 2013 regular season this weekend with four games at the BSU Softball Complex ... Friday, the Cardinals host Buffalo for a 1 p.m. doubleheader while Kent State comes to town for single games Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).
► TWO FOR THE TITLE: The Ball State softball team will secure its fourth Mid-American Conference regular season title in five years with a pair of wins this weekend ... The Cardinals, who are 15-2 in MAC play this season, enter the week with a 2.5 game lead in the conference standings over Kent State which is 13-5 ... Central Michigan is the only other team with a chance to win the title with its 12-6 MAC record.
► BREAKING IT DOWN: If Ball State goes 4-0, 3-1 or 2-2 this weekend, the Cardinals will win the 2013 Mid-American Conference regular season title outright ... If BSU goes 1-3, it will win the title if Kent State loses one of its four games ... Ball State can win the title by going 0-4 if Kent State drops both games at Miami Friday and Central Michigan loses one of its four games this weekend.
► THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BREAKDOWN: If Kent State goes 4-0 this weekend, it wins the title if BSU goes either 1-3 or 0-4 ... If Kent State goes 3-1, it only wins the title if Ball State goes 0-4 this weekend ... The only way Central Michigan can win the title is if it goes 4-0, Kent State goes 2-2 and Ball State goes 0-4.
► 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) and Andy Wright (color commentary) 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
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After going 2-1 last weekend, the Ball State softball program enters the weekend with an 849-912-4 (.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).
► 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 236-159 (.597) record at BSU, including a 97-46 (.678) 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 959-249 (.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 32-14 overall record and a 15-2 MAC mark ... Jennifer Gilbert leads the MAC at the plate with a .457 (69-for-151) batting average, 63 RBI and 49 runs scored ... In the circle, freshman Nicole Steinbach has thrown a league-best six of complete game shutouts, owns a team-best 2.24 ERA and is limiting opposing batters to a .238 average ... As a team, the Cardinals own a MAC-best .315 batting average and rank fourth in the league with a 2.90 ERA ... BSU’s opponents are batting .255 and have a 6.20 ERA in the circle.
► RPI UPDATE: Based on the strength of its 32-14 record entering the week, the Ball State softball team was ranked 63rd in this week’s NCAA RPI rankings ... The Cardinals’ highest ranking of the season came April 15 with BSU holding the No. 50 slot among the 291 ranked NCAA Division I softball programs ... Ball State is the top-ranked team in the Mid-American Conference with Kent State second at 109 ... The Cardinals are also the second-best team in the state of Indiana, trailing only Notre Dame (44th).
► SCOUTING BUFFALO (NCAA RPI - 211) - The Bulls enter Friday’s doubleheader with a 15-29 overall record which includes a 5-11 ledger in MAC play ... Buffalo still has a shot at making the eight-team MAC tournament, entering the week as the 10th-best team in the league, but needs at least three wins and some help to get there ... Earlier this week, the Bulls split a Tuesday doubleheader at St. Bonaventure, losing the first game 4-3 and winning the second 3-2 ... Buffalo enters the week ranked 11th in the MAC with a .223 batting average led by Alexis Curtiss at .287 ... Sammi Gallardo is second on the team with a .255 average, but owns team-bests of eight home runs, 19 RBI and 21 runs scored ... In the circle, the Bulls are eighth in the league with a 4.11 team ERA ... Tori Speckman is Buffalo’s top pitcher with a 2.31 ERA and a 9-9 record over 33 appearances ... In 115.1 innings of work, Speckman has limited opposing batters to a .217 average and tallied 102 strikeouts while yielding just 25 walks ... Ball State holds a 14-3 advantage in the all-time series versus Buffalo, including 10 straight wins ... Last season, the Cardinals picked up a pair of road wins by scores of 9-5 (April 28) and 13-0/5 innings (April 29) ... Ball State has a 7-1 lead in games played at the BSU Softball Complex, including seven straight wins.
► SCOUTING KENT STATE (NCAA RPI - 109) - The Golden Flashes enter the weekend with a 23-17-1 overall record which includes a 13-5 mark in MAC play ... Kent State trails the Cardinals by 2.5 games in the race for the league title, while holding a one game edge over Central Michigan for the No. 2 seed in the tournament ... In midweek action, KSU split a Tuesday twin bill versus Cleveland State, losing the first game 6-3 and winning the second 5-4 ... Kent State plays a Friday doubleheader at Miami before closing the regular season in Muncie ... Kent State enters the weekend ranked 10th in the MAC with a .229 team batting average ... Kim Kirkpatrick leads the team with a .333 batting average, 25 runs scored, 10 doubles and three home runs ... In the circle, Kent State is third in the MAC with a 2.72 team ERA ... Emma Johnson is the Golden Flashes’ ace and leads the MAC in ERA (1.67), opponents batting average (.187) and wins (18) ... Her 179 strikeouts are second in the MAC, while her 175.2 innings of work are third ... Kent State holds a 45-29 advantage in the all-time series after the teams split an April 27 doubleheader last season ... KSU won the first game 7-3, while the Cardinals took the nightcap 8-5 ... Overall, Ball State holds a 17-13 edge in games played at the BSU Softball Complex, including two consecutive wins.
► THE MAC AWARDS: Despite not having a league weekly award winner for the second 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 11 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 single-season record 20 home runs this season to raise her career total to 53 ... The total is second in MAC history, trailing only Kelli Metzger’s (1996-99 for Akron) career mark of 57 ... Gilbert enters the weekend ranked second in the MAC in long balls this season, trailing only Lauren Gellerman’s (Ohio) total of 21.
► 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 178 career RBI which is 11 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 1.37 RBI-per-game average, while her 63 RBI this season were second in the nation, trailing only Megan Baltzell’s (Longwood) total of 65 … In addition, Gilbert ranked fourth in the nation in home runs per game (0.43), fifth in slugging percentage (.934), sixth in home runs (20), 10th in batting average (.457), 26th in runs per game (1.07) and 29th in on base percentage (0.525).
► DOUBLING UP: Led by senior center fielder Amanda Carpenter’s MAC-best 18 doubles this season, the Ball State offense entered the week ranked third in the nation with a 1.91 doubles-per-game average ... Carpenter, who currently ranks second in program history with 51 career doubles, was fifth among all NCAA Division I players with her 0.40 doubles per game average ... As a team, the Cardinals have tallied 88 doubles this season which was 26 more than the next closest team in the MAC in Northern Illinois at 62 ... 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 51 career doubles, Amanda Carpenter is third in BSU annals in career hits (223) and RBI (148), while ranking fourth in career runs scored (139) and home runs (21) ... She boasts a .981 career fielding percentage, with 304 putouts and 10 outfield assists compared to just six errors ... In fact, Carpenter has played 101 consecutive games without an error.
► DOUBLING UP PART 2: The Ball State defense has also picked up where it left off in 2012, turning 28 double plays so far this season ... Junior first baseman Taylor Rager has had a hand in 22 of the twin killings, moving her into the top spot in program history with 51 career double plays turned ... Sophomore second baseman Taylor Cox has been involved in 15 of the twin killings this season, raising her career total to 38 which is second in program history ... BSU entered the week ranked fourth in the nation with a 0.61 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 .411 batting average this season, Rager has moved into fourth in program history with a .349 career batting average ... Her 25 career home runs rank third in BSU annals, while her 120 career RBI and 36 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 18 games with a .375 batting average ... The effort helped her move from the nine slot on the score card to the top of the order ... Only Taylor Rager and Jennifer Gilbert have higher averages over the span at .418 and .417, respectively ... Over the past 18 games, Cihlar has racked up 21 hits, including three doubles and a triple ... She has scored 13 runs and tallied five RBI, while also drawing four walks and posting a .417 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 26 appearances, Steinbach has held teams to four-or-less hits 13 times and surrendered two-or-less earned runs 19 times ... She currently leads the league with six complete game shutouts, including three in MAC play ... She recorded a career-best 10 strikeouts versus Creighton (Feb. 22) and has tallied five-or-more Ks in an appearance 10 times ... Over 137.1 innings of work, Steinbach has limited opposing batters to a .238 average and has recorded 97 strikeouts, both team-highs.
► THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Ball State offense entered the week ranked 23rd in the nation with its MAC-leading .315 team batting average, while its 1.91 doubles-per-game average was third ... The Cardinals offense also ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring (6.89/8th), home runs (1.28/15th) and slugging percentage (.523/16th) ... Complete national rankings for the 2013 Ball State squad can be found on page 15.
► NCAA ACTIVE CAREER LEADERS: Jennifer Gilbert’s 53 career home runs placed her 10th among all active NCAA Division I players entering the week, while her 178 career RBI ranked 13th ... Gilbert also ranked in the top 25 in slugging percentage (.781/12th), doubles (46/15th) and runs scored (154/22nd) ... Amanda Carpenter entered the week ranked fifth among all active players with 51 doubles, while placing in the top 40 in at bats (684/14th), hits per game (.326/27th), RBI (148/30th) and runs scored (139/38th).
► 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 80-21 (.792) conference record during the span ... Kent State is second on the list at 66-37 (.641) followed by Miami at 67-39 (.632) ... Buffalo is 11th at 32-69 (.317).