► LET THE GAMES BEGIN: The Ball State softball team opens the 2013 campaign Saturday when it competes in the KSU Classic hosted by Kennessaw State at Twin Creeks Park in Woodstock, Ga. ... On the opening day of the two-day event, the Cardinals will battle IUPUI (10:30 a.m.) and UT Martin (1 p.m.) on Field 4 ... Ball State closes the tournament Sunday with games versus Tennessee Tech (10:30 a.m.) and Eastern Kentucky (1 p.m.) on Field 2.
► FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the Cardinals throughout the KSU Classic with live stats at the link above ... Fans can also get regular updates by following the team on Twitter: @BallStSoftball and Facebook: BallStateSoftball
► CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After posting a 40-15 record in 2012, the Ball State softball program upped its all-time record to 817-898-4 (.476) 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) ... Entering his seventh season as Ball State's head coach, Nicholson has amassed a 204-145 (.585) 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 927-235 (.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 Ball State softball team returns 12 letterwinners and seven position starters from last season's squad which posted a 40-15 (17-3 MAC) record ... Leading the way for the Cardinals is 2012 MAC Player of the Year and First Team All-MAC selection Jennifer Gilbert who finished last season ranked in the top 40 nationally in runs per game (fifth), doubles per game (10th), home runs per game (17th), home runs (19th), triples (28th), slugging percentage (37th) and RBI per game (37th) ... Other All-MAC players returning to the Ball State lineup this season include second-team selections Amanda Carpenter, Audrey Bickel and Hanne Stuedemann.
► SCOUTING THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS
IUPUI - The Jaguars opened the 2013 season last weekend by going 3-2 at the Mercer Invitational, scoring two wins over Alabama State (5-3 & 15-1) while going 1-2 versus Mercer (5-7, 10-4, 1-3) ... IUPUI hit .336 over the five games, with Jessica Lam posting a team-leading .625 batting average, with four of her 10 hits being home runs ... The Jaguars pitching staff posted a combined 4.18 ERA over the five games, allowing just 15 earned runs while striking out 22 batters ... Ball State holds an 11-1 advantage in the all-time series including an 11-4 victory in the last meeting March 30, 2010.
UT Martin - The Skyhawks opened the 2013 season last weekend by going 2-2 at the Southeastern Louisiana Lions Classic ... UT Martin scored wins over Louisiana Tech (7-2 in 8 innings) and Saint Louis (3-2), while falling to Southeastern Louisiana (0-2) and Delaware (2-7) ... The Skyhawks hit .215 as a team, led by Kenzi Tate's .615 average ... The UT Martin pitching staff posted a combined 3.25 ERA over the four games, allowing just 13 earned runs while striking out 14 batters ... The all-time series currently stands at 1-1, with Ball State scoring a 5-0 victory in the latest meeting Feb. 28, 2010.
Tennessee Tech - The Golden Eagles opened the 2013 season last weekend by going 2-2 at the Georgia Southern Tournament ... Tennessee Tech scored wins over St. John's (4-3) and Akron (3-1), while also losing to the Zips (2-9) and host Georgia Southern (0-1) ... The Golden Eagles hit .283 as a team, led by Chanelle Spalding's .500 mark ... The Tennessee Tech pitching staff posted a 2.96 ERA over the two games, allowing 11 earned runs while striking out 30 batters ... While the Cardinals hold a 3-2 advantage in the all-time series, BSU will be looking to avenge a 2-1 loss suffered to the Golden Eagles last season on the final day of the Frost Classic (Feb. 26, 2012).
Eastern Kentucky - Picked to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference's East Division this season in the league's preseason poll, the Colonels will also be opening the 2013 season this weekend at the KSU Classic ... Eastern Kentucky concluded the 2012 season with a 27-30 overall record and returns two all-conference players in senior infielder Raquel Howes and sophomore catcher Katie Tackett ... EKU owns a 1-0 edge in the all-time series versus Ball State, having scored a 3-0 win over the Cardinals in the only meeting held Feb. 23, 2008.
► 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.
► IN THE WIN COLUMN: Ball State reached the 40-win mark for just the second time in program history in 2012 ... Only 36 of the 283 NCAA Division I schools posted 40-or-more wins in 2012.
► TAKING THE TITLE: The Ball State softball team secured its third MAC regular season title in four years with a 17-3 overall league record in 2012 ... The title came down to the team's last series in which it battled MAC East Division leader Bowling Green for the overall league crown ... Needing one win over the Falcons, the Cardinals wasted little time with a 6-0 shutout victory Saturday, May 5 ... BSU would then end the regular season with an 8-5 senior day win over BGSU Sunday, May 6, giving them a 2.5 game advantage in the final league standings . . . Miami (16-6) finished second in the MAC overall standings, followed by Bowling Green (15-7).
► AT THE PLATE: The 2012 Ball State softball squad set the Ball State and MAC single season record for home runs (70), while finishing the year ranked in the top 11 nationally in doubles per game (2nd at 1.82), scoring (5th at 6.69), slugging percentage (6th at .543) batting average (8th at .318), home runs per game (10th at 1.27), triples per game (11th at 0.29).
► MORE ON THE HOME RUN RECORD: The 2012 Cardinals set a Ball State and Mid-American Conference single-season record with 70 home runs ... The previous Ball State record was 44, while the prior MAC record was 59 ... Nine different Ball State players hit a home run during the season, with three players in double figures led by 2012 MAC Player of the Year Jennifer Gilbert with her BSU single-season record 18 long balls.
► THE MOST MEMORABLE HOME RUN OF 2012: Ball State's most memorable home run came of the bat of pinch hitter Lauren Schroeder who celebrated her 20th birthday on April 28 by blasting what turned out to be a game-winning home run in a 9-5 victory at Buffalo ... In addition to being her first career home run, the three-run rocket shot over the left field fence and off the UB Football Stadium was BSU's 59th four-bagger of the season which tied the previous Mid-American Conference single-season record set by Kent State in 2010.
► DON'T FORGET THE DEFENSE: The Ball State defense ranked first in the nation with 33 double plays turned and 35th in fielding percentage at 0.970 ... Second baseman Taylor Cox played a key role in the double-play mark by helping turn a BSU single-season record 24 double plays, including one unassisted twin killing.
► 2012 ALL-GREAT LAKES REGION: A program-record four members of the Ball State softball team were named to the 2012 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I All-Region teams ... Ball State was one of only 18 teams in the nation to have four-or-more All-Region selections ... Representing the Cardinals on the All-Great Lakes Region First Team were Jennifer Gilbert and Alison Mercado ... Earning recognition on the All-Great Lakes Region Second Team for Ball State were Amanda Montalto and sophomore Audrey Bickel.
► MORE ON THE REGIONAL AWARDS: Ball State's four All-Region selections are one better than the previous program-best mark of three set by the 1998 squad when Amy Doyle was a first team honoree, while both Cheri Ball and Jodi Workman earned second team accolades ... In addition, BSU's two first team selections ties with the 2009 team for the most first team honorees (Alicia Barkley and Elizabeth Milian) in a single year.
► 2012 LEAGUE HONORS: The Ball State softball team was heavily rewarded for its 2012 Mid-American Conference regular season title run, with a league-high six members of its squad being honor by the conference's 12 head coaches ... Highlighting the list was 2012 MAC Player of the Year and First Team All-MAC selection Jennifer Gilbert ... Joining Gilbert on the first team were Amanda Montalto and Alison Mercado ... Amanda Carpenter, Audrey Bickel and Hanne Stuedemann earned Second Team All-MAC accolades, with Stuedemann also receiving recognition on the MAC All-Freshman team.
► MORE ON THE MAC HONORS: The Cardinals' six All-MAC selections (either first or second team) were one ahead of Ohio and three more than any other conference program ... BSU's three first team honorees were also a league-high, with only three other schools (Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Toledo) having two representatives.
► 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).