►THIS WEEK IN BALL STATE SOFTBALL: After 31 road games, the Ball State softball team finally opens the home portion of its 2012 slate with a Friday Mid-American Conference doubleheader versus Ohio starting at 1 p.m. . . . The Cardinals will remain home the rest of Easter weekend with Akron coming to visit the BSU Softball Complex for single games Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).
►FOLLOW LIVE: Ball State fans can follow the action this weekend with live stats for all four games at the following link: http://ballstatesports.com/livestats . . . In addition, Sports Link Radio WCRD 91.3 FM will broadcast both of BSU's Friday games over the airwaves and online at the following link: http://ballstatesports.com/liveevents.
►CARDINALS ALL-TIME: After picking up a win at Wright State Wednesday, the Ball State softball program moved its all-time record to 798-893-4 (.472) in 37-plus seasons of play . . . Established as a varsity program in 1975, Ball State has won two Mid-American Conference regular season titles (2009 and 2010), 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-win mark, Craig Nicholson picked up his 900th collegiate coaching victory versus Northern Colorado (March 11) . . . In his sixth season as Ball State's head coach, Nicholson has amassed a 185-140 (.569) record at BSU, including a 21-10 record so far in 2012 . . . 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 . . . Nicholson owns a 908-230 (.798) career coaching record including his 723-90 mark in 11 years at Central Arizona.
►THE FIRST TO 20: With its 11-10 (8 inning) victory over Northern Illinois Sunday, the Ball State softball team became the first program in the Mid-American Conference to reach 20 wins this season . . . The Cardinals' 20-10 (.667) record entering the week ranked 53rd nationally out of 289 NCAA Division I programs.
►A GLIMPSE AT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS:
OHIO enters Friday's doubleheader with a 14-15 (3-1 MAC) record after going 4-2 last week . . . The Bobcats split a Tuesday non-conference doubleheader versus Eastern Kentucky (W, 4-1 / L, 0-9), before opening league play with a Friday split versus Bowling Green (L, 2-4 / W, 3-1) . . . Ohio would go on to end the weekend with a sweep of Toledo (15-1 /4-3) . . . Jillian Van Wagnen paces the Bobcats' starters with a .392 batting average and has scored a team-best 19 runs . . . Alexis Joseph is second on the squad in both batting average (.299) and runs scored (15) . . . Lauren McClary is Ohio's top starting pitcher with an 8-8 record and a 3.42 ERA . . . Ball State holds a 36-33-1 lead in the all-time series versus Ohio, including a pair of wins last season in Athens . . . BSU won the first contest 7-6 (8) and the nightcap 12-5.
AKRON enters the weekend with an 13-18-1 (0-4 MAC) record after sweeping a Tuesday doubleheader versus Niagara, winning the opening game 12-1 (5) and the nightcap 5-0 . . . Akron will play a doubleheader at Miami Friday, before coming to Muncie for the remainder of the weekend . . . Alissa Birkhimer leads Akron with a .389 batting average and 22 RBI . . . Rachael Ratcliffe is second on the squad with a .357 batting average and 18 RBI . . . Brittany Maurer is Akron's top pitcher with an 11-14 record and a 3.79 ERA . . . Ball State holds a 23-21 lead in the all-time series versus the Zips after splitting a pair of games last season . . . BSU won the opener 7-1 (April 2, 2011), while Akron took the second 1-0 (April 3, 2011).
►SCOUTING THE CARDINALS: The Cardinals enter the weekend with a 21-10 (1-1 MAC) record after posting a 5-4 victory at Wright State Wednesday . . . Senior catcher/designated player Amanda Montalto leads the team with a .368 batting average, while sophomore third baseman Audrey Bickel is second at .344 . . . As a team, the Cardinals are first in the league with a .309 batting average, including a MAC-best 33 home runs . . . On the mound, senior right-hander Audrey Workman has a 2.09 ERA and a 10-7 record over 110.2 innings of work, while classmate Kim Mazzapica is 11-3 in the circle with a 2.67 ERA over 94.1 innings . . . As a staff, the Cardinals rank second in the league with a 2.34 ERA, while limiting opposing hitters to a .233 batting average and just 69 earned runs in 206 innings of work . . . Combined, BSU has out-scored its opponents 182-100 this season.
►GOING, GOING, GONE: In addition to leading the Mid-American Conference, the Cardinals entered the week ranked 21st in the nation with a 1.03 home runs per game average . . . BSU added two more long balls Wednesday at Wright State to improve the average to 1.06 . . . Sophomore first baseman Taylor Rager leads BSU's sluggers and entered the week ranked 89th nationally with a 0.23 hpg average, having blasted seven homers this season . . . The Cardinals are on pace to shatter the school record for home runs in the season set last year at 44 . . . Through the first 31 games this season, BSU has already tallied 33 home runs, compared to 16 in the same span in 2011.
►DOUBLING UP: As impressive as the home run total is, the Cardinals are even better when it comes to two-base hits, entering the week ranked sixth in the nation with a 1.73 doubles per game average . . . . BSU posted one double at Wright State Wednesday, moving its average to 1.71 . . . Sophomore outfielder Jennifer Gilbert leads the MAC and entered the week ranked 13th nationally with a 0.37 double-per-game average, while Amanda Montalto is second in the league and was 25th nationally at 0.33 . . . BSU has collected 53 two-base hits so far in 2012, with the school record standing at 93 set in 2010.
►DON'T FORGET THE TRIPLES: Amanda Montalto also owns a team-best three triples this season, which ranks second in the MAC and 20th nationally . . . BSU players have combined for nine triples this year, including one by sophomore outfielder Jennifer Gilbert at Wright State, and the team entered the week ranked 28th in the nation in triples per game (0.27).
►MONTALTO IN THE RANKINGS: Amanda Montalto enters the week as one of the greatest sluggers in MAC history . . . BSU's career leader in home runs (29) and doubles (48), she ranks second in both categories in MAC history . . . Akron's Kelli Metzger (1996-99) is the MAC's all-time home runs leader at 57, while Ohio's Jenn Morris (1996-99) is the league's all-time doubles leader with 55 . . . Montalto also ranks second on BSU's all-time career list for RBI (126), which is fifth in the conference, and third for walks (92), which is third in league annals.
►"O CANADA": For the past three years, sophomore outfielder Jennifer Gilbert has played in numerous international competitions as part of the Canadian National Team Program . . . This past December, Gilbert (who was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) helped guide the Canadian Junior Women's National Team to a fifth-place showing at the ISF IX Junior Women's World Championship in Cape Town, South Africa (Dec. 6-17) . . . In the event, Gilbert hit .411 with 14 hits in 34 at bats, including a grand slam . . . Gilbert also played for the 2010 Canadian Junior Women's National Team and the 2009 Canadian Women's U16 National Team.
►STEPPING IT UP: Senior infielder Alison Mercado has done a great job filling in at shortstop for the injured Jessica Craft over the last 12 games, leading the team with a .467 (14-for-28) batting average over the span . . . Mercado, who started all 58 games at second base for BSU last season, came up with BSU's biggest hit last Sunday in the come-from-behind win over Northern Illinois by driving in the game-tying run with a RBI single past the third baseman with two outs in the seventh inning . . . Wednesday at Wright State, Mercado blasted her first career home run.
►WALK THIS WAY: In addition to being the league's top hitting team, the Cardinals have also shown tremendous patience at the plate with a league-leading 119 walks so far this season . . . Entering the week, Bowling Green was second in the league with just 86 walks . . . Amanda Montalto entered the week ranked second in the MAC with 19 free passes, while freshman designated player/outfielder Hanne Stuedemann is fourth with 16 . . . Stuedemann added another walk at WSU to up her season total to 17.
►CARDS DEALING FROM THE CIRCLE: The Ball State pitching staff entered the week ranked second in the MAC with a 2.32 team ERA . . . After Wednesday's game at Wright State senior right-handed pitcher Audrey Workman has a 2.09, while senior right-hander Kim Mazzapica is at 2.67, moving the team's ERA to 2.34 . . . Mazzapica leads Ball State with 11 wins, while Workman is close behind at 10 . . . Workman also ranks among the league-leaders in complete games (12), innings pitched (110.2), strikeouts (79) and opponent batting average (.219) . . . Mazzapica ranks among league-leaders in complete games (9) and innings pitched (94.1).
►CARDINALS SHOWING THE GLOVE: With BSU ranking in the top 35 nationally in nearly every offensive category, including its .309 team batting average, it's easy to forget about the Cardinals' top-notch defense . . . BSU entered the week ranked 49th among the 289 NCAA Division I teams with a 0.968 fielding percentage . . . In addition, the Cardinals have turned a MAC-best 16 double plays and rank seventh in the nation with a 0.53 double plays-per-game average . . . Wednesday's opponent Wright State enters the week ranked first in the nation with a 0.65 double plays-per-game average . . . Both Ball State and Wright State recorded a double play in Wednesday's game to up their season averages to 0.55 and 0.66, respectively.