► RETURN TO THE FROZEN SOUTH: The Ball State softball team returns to action Sunday, when it battles both Virginia Tech (10 am) and George Mason (Noon) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational hosted by USC Upstate ... The tournament was slated to begin Friday, but this week’s winter storm pushed back the start of the event ... The Cardinals close play in the now two-day tournament Monday versus host USC Upstate (1 pm).
► FOLLOW THE ACTION: Cardinals fans can follow the action at the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational with live stats for all three games at the tournament central page: http://www.upstatespartans.com/sports/w-softbl/2013-14/Buffalo_Wild_Wings_Spartan_Invitational ... 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 the CenturyLink Classic hosted by Texas State, the Ball State softball program enters the weekend with an 857-915-4 (.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 Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational with a 345-344-1 (.501) career record, including a 3-0 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.
► CAN NOT ESCAPE THE SNOW: For the second straight week, the Cardinals will have their weekend cut short due to winter weather ... At last weekend’s CenturyLink Classic hosted by Texas State, the Cardinals’ Friday games were cancelled, while Sunday’s contest versus Stephen F. Austin was not finished due to travel constraints.
► SCOUTING THE CARDINALS: The Ball State softball team opened the 2014 season on a strong note, posting a 3-0 record at the CenturyLink Classic hosted by Texas State ... Junior right fielder Loren Cihlar led the Cardinals at the plate over the two-day event, posting six hits and a Mid-American Conference-leading .545 (6-for-11) batting average ... Ball State’s offense currently leads the league with a .390 team batting average and connected for five home runs last weekend which is tied for first in the MAC ... In the circle, sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker picked up a pair of wins, posting a 1.62 ERA over 8.2 innings of work ... She allowed just eight hits, while striking out five batters ... Over the three games last weekend, the Cardinals out-scored their opponents 24-8.
► THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational with a 2-1 record after playing in last weekend’s Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn. ... Virginia Tech opened the season with wins over Miami, Ohio (6-1) and Tennessee State (5-0), before losing to Lipscomb (2-1) ... Vanessa Gonzale leads the squad with a .571 (4-for-7) batting average and has one of the team’s two home runs ... In the circle, Kelly Heinz earned a 1-1 record and a 0.54 ERA over 13.0 innings of work ... Maggie Tyler posted a complete game shutout in her lone appearance last week ... As a team, the Hokies are batting .244 with 12 runs scored ... Their opponents are batting .125 with just three runs, only one of which was earned ... The all-time series is currently tied at 1-1, with Virginia Tech earning a 6-5 win in the latest meeting, Feb. 23, 2003.
GEORGE MASON: The Patriots open the 2014 season when they battle the Cardinals at Noon Sunday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational ... Last season, GMU posted an 18-37 overall record, including a 6-15 mark in the Colonial Athletics Association ... This season, the Patriots join the Atlantic 10 Conference ... The Patriots return 15 position players and all four pitchers from last season’s squad.
USC UPSTATE: The Spartans enter their second home tournament with a 5-0 record and received votes in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 and USA Today/NFCA Coaches polls ... USC Upstate opened the season with wins over Eastern Michigan (8-0, 5 inn.), Youngstown State (12-4, 5 inn.), Virginia (6-1), Towson (7-1) and Virginia (8-0, 5 inn.) ... In the second contest versus the Cavaliers, Upstate’s Hannah Alexander became just the third pitcher in program history to toss a perfect game ... Shellie Robinson leads the Spartans’ regular starters with a .643 (9-for-14) batting average, including three home runs and two triples ... Alexander owns a perfect 3-0 record in the circle and has yet to yield a run in 10.2 innings of work ... She has also collected 16 strikeouts to just one walk ... USC Upstate is batting .404 on the year, while holding opposing batters to a .173 average ... The Cardinals and Spartans will be meeting for the first time in softball Monday.
► MAC WEEKLY SWEEP: The Ball State softball team opened the 2014 season by sweeping the MAC’s weekly honors, with senior first baseman Taylor Rager earning Co-MAC West Division Player of the Week and Kelsey Schifferdecker garnering MAC West Pitcher of the Week ... Rager is a three-time career player of the week award winner, while Schifferdecker picked up her second career pitcher of the week honor ... 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.
► TYING THE MARK: With a two-run blast in the season-opening win over Texas State, senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert tied the Mid-American Conference career home run record with her 57th career round tripper ... Gilbert’s 57 career home runs are the second-most for an active NCAA Division I player, trailing only the 61 put up by Oklahoma junior Lauren Chamberlain.
► 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 nine 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.
► MORE ON THE RECORDS WATCH: In addition to holding the MAC’s career records for home runs (57) and RBI (189), Jennifer Gilbert enters the week ranked second in league history with 165 runs scored, just two shy of the all-time record of 167 held by Ball State’s Lisa Rozanski (2008-11) ... She is also tied for fifth in both doubles (47) and batting average (.380), while being tied for 16th in hits (218).
► ONE TO WATCH: Ball State’s 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 ESPNW Preseason All-America First Team and 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, Taylor Rager and sophomore pitcher Nicole Steinbach were also named to the Madness 2014 Preseason All-MAC First Team.
► THE RAGER FACTOR: In addition to being the program’s record holder in double plays turned at 53, Taylor Rager is also quickly climbing up BSU’s career offensive charts ... Based on the strength of her .429 batting average so far this season, Rager has moved into fourth in program history with a .350 career batting average ... Her 29 career home runs rank third in BSU annals, while her 136 career RBI are fourth and her 39 career doubles are tied for fourth.
► WALK IT OUT: Taylor Rager enters the week ranked eighth in Mid-American Conference history with 90 career walks, including two so far this season ... In addition, senior third baseman Audrey Bickel is tied for 24th on the league’s career walks chart at 73 ... The only other active MAC player ranked in the top 25 on the league’s career walks chart is Ohio senior Raven King with 82 career free passes.
QUICK HITS FROM OPENING WEEKEND
► Ball State junior right fielder Loren Cihlar enters the week ranked first in the MAC with a .545 batting average after going 6-for-11 at the plate opening weekend ... For two of her hits, Cihlar legged out bunt singles, while another was a double smashed to the left-center field wall.
► Loren Cihlar remains the top base stealer in program history based on percentage, with a .909 (20-for-22) rate of success.
► Sophomore second baseman Emily Dabkowski blasted her first career home run in the season-opener versus Texas State.
► Junior Hanne Stuedemann enters the week tied for sixth in program history with 16 career home runs, including one so far this season ... Stuedemann did have a second home run versus Stephen F. Austin, but since the game did not finish the blast does not count.
► Sophomore shortstop Selena Reyna played a large roll on defense for the Cardinals last weekend, logging a perfect fielding percentage with six putouts and seven assists ... Reyna made a couple spectacular catches, while also factoring in one of Ball State’s two double plays.
► 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 ... 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.
► The Ball State defense turned a pair of double plays in the opening tournament to start the season strong on defense ... Last season, Ball State ranked fourth nationally with a 0.56 double plays per game average, turning 30 double plays in 54 games.
► Uniform Watch 2014: Ball State was a perfect 2-0 in the black uniform last weekend, while going 1-0 in the white uniform.