► THE SECOND SEASON BEGINS: The No. 1 seeded Ball State softball team opens play in the 2014 Mid-American Conference Softball Championship Wednesday, when it battles No. 8 seed Miami in the 2:30 p.m. game at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio ... The winner of the game will battle the winner of No 4 Kent State vs. No. 5 Ohio which precedes the Cardinals’ game.
► FOLLOW THE ACTION: Ball State softball fans can follow the Cardinals’ run in the 2014 MAC Softball Championship with live stats available at BallStateSports.com ... WCRD 91.3 FM continues its coverage during the tournament, with Torey Fox calling the action live from Firestone Stadium for WCRD and BallStateSports.com ...The MAC is also offering streaming vidoe of the games at the link above ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStateSB - Instagram: ballstatesb - Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► OUT WITH THE NEW, IN WITH THE OLD: After experimenting with tournament byes for the past two seasons, the 2014 MAC Softball Championship will move back to a straight eight-team tournament format ... Over the past two seasons, both teams which earned the double bye as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds lost their opening game ... The last time a No. 1 seed won the tournament was 2011 when Western Michigan captured the title before the byes were instituted.
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: The Ball State softball program enters the 2014 MAC Softball Championship with an 886-932-4 (.487) all-time record in 39-plus seasons of play ... Established as a varsity program in 1975, Ball State has won five Mid-American Conference regular season titles (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014), two MAC Tournament championships (1998 and 2010) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice (1998 and 2010).
► IN THE MAC PART 1: The Ball State softball team is 367-379-1 (.492) all-time in Mid-American Conference action ... The Cardinals best two seasons, based on winning percentage, came in 2009 and 2013 when BSU went 18-3 (.857) ... This season, the Cardinals won the MAC title with a 12-4 (.750) league mark after missing six conference games due to weather ... The .750 winning percentage is the fifth-best in program history.
► IN THE MAC PART 2: From 2009 through last weekend’s MAC action, the Cardinals have proven to be one of the league’s premier programs by racking up a 95-26 (.785) record in league play ... Kent State has the second-best league record during the span at 78-44 (.639).
► HEAD COACH TYRA PERRY: After leading the Ball State softball team to a 12-4 league record, the 2014 MAC regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the 2014 MAC Softball Championship, Tyra Perry became the first first-year coach in program history to earn MAC Coach of the Year accolades ... A two-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year (2009 & 2013), Perry was named the eighth head coach in Ball State softball history Aug. 6, 2013 ... Perry enters the MAC Tournament with a 374-361-1 (.509) career record, including a 32-17 ledger so far in her first season at Ball State ... Perry’s biggest win to date with the Cardinals was a 3-0 victory at then-No. 3 Arizona State (March 2) ... 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: Ball State enters the 2014 MAC Softball Championship with a 32-17 overall record and as the tournament’s No. 1 seed after capturing the league’s regular season title with a 12-4 MAC record ... Last weekend, Ball State split a Friday doubleheader versus Central Michigan (W, 8-3 / L, 5-8 in 8 inn.) before clinching the MAC regular season title with a Saturday win over Eastern Michigan (8-0 in 5 inn.) and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament with a Sunday victory over the Eagles (11-3 in 5 inn.) ... The Cardinals are the top batting team in the MAC with a .327 average and also lead the league in runs scored (289), slugging percentage (.539), on base percentage (.403), total bases (715) and home runs (59) ... Senior left fielder Jennifer Gilbert leads the league in nearly every offensive category entering the tournament, including batting average (.414), slugging percentage (.952), on base percentage (.517), runs scored (54), runs batted in (61), home runs (19) and total bases (138) ... Sophomore center fielder Briana Evans is second on the squad and in the MAC with a .401 batting average ... In the circle, sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker paces the squad with a 15-5 record and has three complete game shutouts on the year ... Schifferdecker also has a team-best 3.40 ERA over 133.2 innings of work and has struck out 70 batters.
► IN #MACTION: Ball State finished the 2014 MAC season ranked first in league-only games in batting average (.333), ERA (2.06) and fielding percentage (.980) ... Senior first baseman Taylor Rager paced all MAC players in conference action with a .500 batting average, a 1.095 slugging percentage, a .625 on base percentage and 18 runs scored ... Sophomore pitcher Nicole Steinbach ranked third in MAC-only games with a 1.73 ERA, while Kelsey Schifferdecker was sixth at 2.29.
► RPI UPDATE: Based on the strength of its 32-17 record entering the week, the Ball State softball team is 66th in the latest NCAA RPI rankings released May 5 ... The Cardinals have played 17 games versus current top 100 teams and own a 5-12 record in those games ... Kent State is the highest-ranked MAC team, one spot ahead of Ball State at 65th.
► SCOUTING MIAMI (RPI - 201): The RedHawks earned the No. 8 seed in the 2014 MAC Softball Championship by finishing the regular season with a 22-26 overall record, including a 9-11 ledger in league action ... Last weekend, the RedHawks clinched the final spot in the league tournament by going 3-1 ... After opening the weekend with a 5-3 loss to Eastern Michigan, Miami rebound to take the nightcap in a Friday doubleheader versus the Eagles by a score of 3-2 (9 inn.) ... The RedHawks then swept a two-game series versus Central Michigan with wins Saturday (3-2) and Sunday (3-0) ... Miami enters the tournament ranked fifth in the conference in batting (.273) and fielding (.962), while owning the seventh-best team ERA (3.27) ... Taylor Shuey leads Miami with a .325 batting average and is second with 24 runs scored ... Bree Lipscomb is the top slugger on the team with 18 doubles and eight home runs, she also has a team-best 38 RBI ... Paige Myers is Miami’s top pitcher, boasting a 10-9 record in the circle with a 2.91 ERA over 108.1 innings of work ... Myers is also holding opponents to a .264 average and has 90 strikeouts on the year ... Ball State holds a 51-42 lead in the all-time series versus Miami, including wins in eight of the last 11 meetings ... Ball State swept the regular season series versus the RedHawks winning the first game 2-1 (April 26) and taking the second 9-1 in 5 inn. (April 27).
► MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: For the third consecutive year, Jennifer Gilbert was named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year ... She is the first player in MAC history to earn the league’s top individual honor three times ... She is also one of only 11 players in NCAA Division I history to earn their respective conference player of the year award three times.
► IN THE TOP 10: With her 75th career home run in last Sunday’s 11-3 (5 inn.) win over Eastern Michigan, Jennifer Gilbert remains eighth on the NCAA Division I career home run list ... Gilbert, who is already the NCAA career home run leader among Canadian-born players, needs two homers to pass Arizona’s Jenny Dalton (1993-96) for seventh all-time ... Former UCLA slugger Stacey Nuveman (1997, 99, 2001-02) is the NCAA Division I career home leader with 90 long balls ... Gilbert also enters the week ranked eighth in NCAA Division I history with a .822 career slugging percentage, which includes all active players meeting the minimum requirements (250 career at bats).
► LEADING THE NATION: Jennifer Gilbert enters the week as the NCAA Division I active career leader in RBI (246), runs scored (215), doubles (62) and home runs (75), all of which are also MAC career records ... Gilbert’s 242 career RBI are 39 ahead of the next closest player, Alabama’s Kaila Hunt ... Her 75 career home runs are seven ahead of Oklahoma junior Lauren Chamberlain, while her 215 career runs scored are 16 ahead of Arizona State’s Alix Johnson ... Gilbert’s 62 career doubles are tied with Louisville’s Katie Keller, plus are just five more than her Ball State classmate Taylor Rager in fourth at 57 ... Gilbert also enters the week ranked fifth in career hits (274), seventh in slugging percentage (.822), eighth in at bats (707), 25th in triples (10) and 49th in walks (94) among active NCAA Division I players.
► THE RAGER FACTOR: In addition to being the program’s record holder for career double plays turned at 65, Taylor Rager is also close to the top in nearly every career offensive category ... Rager is currently fourth in program history with a .353 career batting average ... Her 175 career RBI are second in both BSU and MAC annals, while her 57 career doubles are tied for second in both BSU and MAC history ... Rager is also tied for second in program history in home runs (38) and fourth in hits (229).
► WALK IT OUT: Taylor Rager became just the sixth player in Mid-American Conference history to draw 100 career walks when she was issued a free pass in the third inning of the April 5 win over Toledo ... With three walks this past weekend, Rager moved into third in league history and became the program’s all-time career walk leader at 115 ... Her 115 career walks also rank 16th among all active NCAA Division I players ... With her seven walks last weekend, Jennifer Gilbert also broke into the top 10 on the league’s career chart at 94.
► WINNING IN THE CIRCLE: Sophomore Kelsey Schifferdecker enters the MAC tournament tied for eighth in program history with 30 career pitching victories, while sophomore Nicole Steinbach is not far behind, ranking 11th with 28 career wins in a Ball State uniform ... Elizabeth Milian (2007-10) is the program’s all-time wins leader at 85 ... Steinbach also enters the tournament tied for second in BSU annals with six career saves.
► Ball State posted a 3-0 win at then-No. 3 Arizona State March 2, marking the highest-ranked opponent the Cardinals have defeated since a 2-1 victory at then-No. 3 Missouri March 19, 2010.
► The Ball State softball team placed a program-record five players on the All-MAC First Team with Jennifer Gilbert, Taylor Rager, senior third baseman Audrey Bickel, Briana Evans and sophomore designated player Sammi Cowger being named to the squad ... In addition, Ball State led the league with eight total honors this season as Nicole Steinbach was named to the All-MAC Second Team, Gilbert was named MAC Player of the Year and Tyra Perry was named MAC Coach of the Year.
► Sammi Cowger was named to the All-MAC First Team after posting a .343 (12-for-25) batting average in league play ... She blasted her first career home run in Ball State’s 15-2 (5 inn.) win over Akron (April 18) and also had a pair of doubles in league action ... Cowger was also sixth in MAC-only contest with a .478 on base percentage, having been walked and hit by a pitch five times each.
► Of Briana Evans’ 57 hits this season, 33 have been either infield hits or bunt singles ... Evans is also tied for 11th in the MAC with 11 stolen bases this season.
► Briana Evans leads the league with five triples this season, with all five coming in BSU victories ... Her first triple came in a 7-1 win over Morehead State (Feb. 22) ... Her second came in a 12-0 (5 inn.) win over Alabama A&M (March 14) ... She posted triples in back-to-back games versus North Dakota State (6-4) and UMKC (8-0, 5 inn.) March 22 ... Her latest triple came in Ball State’s 10-0 (5 inn.) win over Ohio (April 19).
► Junior right fielder Loren Cihlar remains the top base stealer in program history based on percentage, with a .906 (29-for-32) rate of success over her career ... She is 9-for-10 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 has reached base safely in 41 of Ball State’s 49 games and put together a career-best 10-game hitting streak starting versus No. 3 Arizona State (March 2) and ending following a single versus No. 23 Auburn (March 15).
► Emily Dabkowski drove in what proved to be the game-winning run versus No. 3 Arizona State (March 2) with a two-out RBI single through the left side in the top of the seventh ... She also showed a flair for the dramatic versus Murray State (Feb. 22), blasting an eighth inning walk-off two-run homer to give BSU the 5-3 victory ... In BSU’s 7-4 win at Northern Illinois (April 11), Dabkowski blasted her first career grand slam with two outs in the seventh to drive in what proved to be the game-winning run ... Dabkowski added another game-winning home run at Indiana (April 16), blasting a three-run shot with one out in the seventh.
► Emily Dabkowski and Jennifer Gilbert are tied for first on the team by helping account for 13 game-winning runs each ... Dabkowski has scored the winning run eight times and added five game-winning RBI ... Gilbert has driven in 10 game-winning RBI and scored six game-winning runs (three of which were on her own home runs and are factored out) ... Six of Gilbert’s MAC-leading 19 home runs this season have produced game-winning RBI, while three of Dabkowski’s six home runs have provided game-winning runs.
► Lauren Schroeder blasted a three-run, pinch-hit home run with two outs in the third inning of the April 5 win over Toledo ... It was her eighth career home run and fourth career three-run blast ... Of her eight career home runs, five have been pinch-hit bombs, including a walk-off grand slam to cap last season’s run rule of Butler (April 9, 2013).
► Uniform Watch 2014: Ball State has a 12-3 record in its white uniform, a 15-9 mark in its black uniform, a 5-4 ledger in its grey uniform and a 0-1 mark in its red tops this season.