Following a series victory over No. 9 Michigan, the 14th-ranked Nebraska softball team travels to Penn State this weekend for a three-game Big Ten Conference series to close out the regular season. The Huskers and Nittany Lions open their series at 1 p.m. (Central) on Saturday, before meeting at 1:30 p.m. (Central) on Saturday and concluding the series at Noon (Central) on Sunday.
Saturday’s game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network, with Dan Kelly and Brooke Weisbrod on the call. Fans can also listen to a free radio broadcast of all three games this weekend on Huskers.com.
The Huskers enter the final weekend of the regular season with a 37-11 overall record, fueled by eight wins in their last 10 games. Nebraska owned the nation’s 16th-best winning percentage entering this week, a noteworthy accomplishment as the Huskers’ overall and non-conference schedules both ranked as the toughest in the nation according to this week’s NCAA RPI ranking. After a pair of victories over Michigan last weekend, Nebraska climbed to No. 6 in this week’s RPI ranking. The Huskers are the highest ranked Big Ten team in the RPI, while the lofty ranking gives Nebraska an excellent chance to be considered for a top-16 national seed and a chance to host an NCAA Regional.
While the Huskers sit in excellent position for the postseason, Nebraska’s chances at a regular-season Big Ten Conference title are slim. The Huskers enter this weekend’s series in third place in the conference standings, three games behind league-leading Michigan (17-2) and one-half game behind second-place Wisconsin (15-5). The Huskers won 2-of-3 games from both the Wolverines and Badgers this season, but due to an unbalanced conference schedule, Michigan and Wisconsin did not play each other this year. Nebraska could share the conference title with Michigan if the Huskers swept Penn State and the Wolverines were swept at home by Northwestern. Under that scenario, Wisconsin would also need to lose at least one game to Michigan State in Madison.
Although the prospects for a Big Ten regular-season title aren’t strong, the Huskers can secure a top-four seed for next week’s Big Ten Tournament and the first-round bye that comes with it. Nebraska needs only one win this weekend to secure a top-four seed. The Huskers, who can be no lower than the No. 5 seed, would also clinch a top-four seed with one loss by Northwestern or two losses by Minnesota.
Nebraska is hosting the 2013 Big Ten Softball Tournament. Seeds 5-12 open single-elimination play on Thursday, May 9, with the winners advancing to face the top four seeds on Friday. Saturday’s two semifinals and Sunday’s Championship Game will air live on the Big Ten Network.
Scouting the Penn State Nittany Lions (14-31 Overall, 4-15 Big Ten)
Penn State is 14-31 this season, but the Nittany Lions have played well recently. PSU has won three of its last four games, including winning twice in Iowa City last weekend to post a series victory over an Iowa squad that ranks 34th in this week’s NCAA RPI. The two wins over the Hawkeyes doubled PSU’s conference victories to four, as Penn State sits in 11th place in the Big Ten standings with a 4-15 league record entering this weekend. Nebraska and Penn State have faced common conference opponents in Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. The Huskers posted an 8-3 record against that group, while the Nittany Lions went 3-8.
Offense is the strength of this year’s Penn State team. The Nittany Lions are averaging 4.5 runs per and they rank in the top half in the conference in doubles, triples and home runs. PSU’s offense is led by arguably the top hitter in the Big Ten in Cassidy Bell. Bell leads the Big Ten with a 1.041 slugging percentage and .600 on-base percentage, while ranking second with a .463 batting average. Despite teams pitching around her - she leads the league with 39 walks - Bell ranks second among all Big Ten hitters with 19 home runs, seventh with 41 RBIs, eighth with 12 doubles and ninth with 17 stolen bases. On the national level, Bell leads the nation in slugging percentage, is third in on-base percentage, sixth in home runs per game, ninth in average and runs per game and 10th in walks.
Behind Bell, Alyssa Renwick is the only other Nittany Lion hitting .300, but she has only started 36 games this season, and she started but was not in the batting order in the final two games of the Iowa series. Renwick is batting .327 with a pair of triples. Macy Jones has been the top slugger other than Bell, recording eight doubles, two triples, five home runs and 27 RBIs to complement a .286 batting average. Kailyn Johnson has added nine doubles, four home runs and 23 RBIs while batting .270.
While Penn State’s offense has been strong this season, its pitching staff has struggled. The Nittany Lions allow an average of 6.9 runs per game, posting a staff ERA of 6.40 that ranks last in the Big Ten. Penn State’s ERA is 2.60 runs higher than any other team ERA in the conference, while PSU has allowed 87 more runs than any other Big Ten team. Opponents are hitting .319 against Penn State this season, and the Nittany Lions have allowed the most doubles (65) and home runs (42) of any team in the league, while allowing a total of 120 extra-base hits. Despite those numbers, Penn State has improved throughout the season. Despite allowing an average of 6.9 runs per game, the Nittany Lions have allowed a total of only 16 runs over their last five contests.
Jones is the ace of the staff, throwing more than half of Penn State’s total innings. She is 12-15 on the year with a 4.18 ERA in 152.1 innings. Opponents are hitting .299 against her and have produced 27 home runs and 66 extra-base hits. She has struck out 92, but walked 51 and hit 11 batters. Jordan Wheatley has seen the most action behind Jones, posting a 2-3 record with a 5.09 ERA in 67.1 innings. Opponents are hitting .343 against Wheatley, while she has walked more batters (28) than she has struck out (23). Marissa Diescher has made the most starts behind Jones, starting 10 games this spring. Diescher is 0-6 with a 12.96 ERA in 27.0 innings. Walks have been her downfall, as she has walked 59 batters in her 27.0 innings, an average of 15.3 walks per seven innings. Outside of the walks, Diescher owns Penn State’s lowest batting average against at .279. Rachel Myers (0-1, 8.78 ERA in 18.1 IP) and Christy Von Pusch (0-6, 17.02 ERA in 19.1 IP) round out the Nittany Lion staff.
Husker History vs. Penn State
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Penn State, 5-2. The Huskers have won three straight in the series, but the teams will meet as conference opponents for the first time this season. Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 4-2 in her career against Penn State, including a 4-2 mark against 17th-year Nittany Lion Head Coach Robin Petrini. Nebraska has scored 26 runs in the last three meetings, including 11 runs in the most recent meeting in 2010 and 10 runs in the previous meeting in 2009.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes heading into this weekend:
- NU’s roster features seven freshmen, tying for the most freshmen in Coach Revelle’s 21 seasons (also 2008).
- Five freshmen started the season opener, the most in Coach Revelle’s tenure and believed to be the most ever.
- NU’s starting lineup has featured at least three freshmen in every game, including 16 games with five freshmen.
- The freshmen have combined for 32 extra-base hits, the eighth-highest total by a freshman class in school history.
- Nebraska has allowed one run or less in 24 of its 48 games this season, including 14 shutouts. In 55 games last season, NU allowed one run or less just 16 times, posting 13 shutouts.
- Nebraska has won seven straight extra-inning games dating back to 2012. NU is 4-0 in extra innings this spring and 3-0 all-time in extra-inning Big Ten games.
- The Huskers have hit 15 home runs in their last 11 games, including 12 homers in the past seven games.
- In the circle, 47 of the 121 hits Tatum Edwards has allowed this season have been infield singles (39 percent).
- Offensively, 18 of Tatum Edwards’ 30 hits have gone for extra bases, including eight doubles and 10 homers.
- Gabby Banda has started 183 consecutive games for the Huskers.
- Banda’s 36 walks this season are just four shy of tying Nebraska’s season record (40).
- The Edwards twins have homered in the same game nine times in their careers, including twice in 2013.
Junior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards have combined to hit 21 home runs this season, with Taylor homering 11 times and Tatum adding 10 home runs. This year marks only the seventh time in school history that two Huskers have hit double-digit home runs in the same season, but the second time the Edwards twins have accomplished the feat after Taylor homered 18 times as a freshman in 2011 and Tatum added 13 home runs. Overall, the twins have produced the sixth-highest two-player home run total in school history, after totaling the second-highest total in 2011.
Junior Taylor Edwards leads Nebraska with 47 RBIs this season, while senior Brooke Thomason is second with 45 RBIs. Both players RBI totals are among the best in school history. Edwards has tied Thomason’s mark for the most RBIs by a Husker junior, while Edwards is only one RBI from moving into a tie for eighth place on Nebraska’s season RBI chart. Thomason is three RBIs shy of moving into that tie for eighth place, and she needs 12 RBIs to tie All-American Ali Viol’s record for the most RBIs by a Husker senior.
Together, Edwards and Thomason are looking to produce only the seventh and eighth 50-RBI seasons in school history. If both players reach the mark this season, they will join the 1996 tandem of Viola and Jenny Smith as the only Husker teammates to each produce 50 RBIs in the same season. Three more RBIs would also make Edwards only the second Husker ever to produce two 50-RBI seasons in a career.
Huskers Aim For Ninth Straight Big Ten Series Win
Nebraska has won all seven of its Big Ten Conference series this season and eight straight league series overall, dating back to last spring. The Huskers are the only Big Ten team to win every conference series this year, and thanks to previous scheduling formats, Nebraska is attempting to become only the second team in Big Ten Conference history to win all of its conference series in a season.
The 2012 season marked the first year that the Big Ten went to a three-game conference series, and all 12 schools lost at least one series. Prior to the 2012 season, Big Ten teams faced each other in two-game series. With that format, a single loss resulted in a series split instead of a series victory. Due to that fact, the only team in Big Ten history to win every conference series in a season were the 1997 Iowa Hawkeyes, who finished Big Ten play with a perfect 22-0 record. Nebraska can join the Hawkeyes and become only the second team in Big Ten history to win every conference series in a season by winning two games this weekend.
Tatum Edwards Named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week
Junior right-hander Tatum Edwards was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Monday, earning her first award of the season and the third of her career. Edwards was honored after posting a 2-1 record against No. 9 Michigan last weekend. The Wolverines entered the series undefeated in Big Ten Conference with a 16-0 record.
In Friday’s series opener, Edwards fired a two-hitter in a 6-1 victory, holding the Wolverines to a season-low two hits and season-low one run. Her complete-game victory snapped Michigan’s nation-leading 22-game win streak and also halted the Wolverines’ 21-game winning streak in conference play. After taking the loss in relief on Saturday, Edwards picked up her second win of the weekend by tossing 3.0 scoreless innings of no-hit relief on Sunday. Her efforts helped Nebraska win a conference series from a top-10 opponent for the first time since 2001. She finished the weekend with a 2-1 record and a 1.91 ERA, allowing only five hits in 11.0 innings against a Michigan team that entered the weekend ranked second nationally in batting average.
Edwards also went 5-for-6 at the plate in the series with a double, a home run and three RBIs. Her two-run homer on Sunday ignited Nebraska’s rally from a four-run deficit.
Husker Offense Threatening School Records
Nebraska’s offense is on pace to challenge several school records this season. While that statement speaks to the success the Husker offense has enjoyed, the strong season is even more impressive considering at least three freshmen have been in the starting batting order in 43 of Nebraska’s 48 games this season.
Entering play this weekend, Nebraska owns the best on-base percentage in school history with a mark of .399, eight points ahead of the 2011 team’s record of .391. The 2011 squad also totaled a school-record .467 slugging percentage, while this year’s group is slugging .468, just ahead of that mark. Nebraska’s .295 batting average currently ranks fourth in school history and would mark the third straight season the Husker offense has posted a top-five team batting average.
Despite playing only 48 games and competing against some years where Nebraska played as many as 73 games, this year’s offense has also put up impressive cumulative totals that rank among the best in school history. NU’s 51 home runs rank in a tie for third in school history and could challenge the school record of 62 set in 1998. Nebraska has been hit by 37 pitches this spring, a total that ranks sixth in school history. The Huskers have drawn 184 walks and are on pace to surpass last year’s school-record total of 204 walks. Finally, Nebraska has produced 115 extra-base hits through only 48 games, an average of 2.4 extra-base hits per game. The Huskers enter this weekend in 10th in school history in that category, just nine shy of moving into the top five.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Junior Taylor Edwards was hit by four pitches last weekend against No. 9 Michigan, including three times in the series finale on Sunday. She has been hit by 13 pitches this season, a new school record. The previous record had been 11 hit-by-pitches shared by Julie Brechtel and Ashley Guile in 2010. In addition to her Nebraska season record, Edwards owns the Husker single-game record after being hit by three pitches on two occasions this season. Overall, Edwards has been plunked 23 times in her career, good for third on Nebraska’s all-time chart.
Husker Home Run Hitters
Senior Brooke Thomason and junior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards have each eclipsed 30 career home runs this spring. Only six players in school history have slugged 30 career home runs, and Tatum Edwards was the third Husker to reach the mark this season, joining her twin sister Taylor and Thomason. Taylor ranks third in school history with 34 home runs, while Thomason is fourth with 33 homers and Tatum ranks sixth with 31 home runs. This year marks the only time in school history that a Husker lineup has featured three players with 30-or-more career home runs.
Taylor Edwards Ties NU Junior-Class RBI Record
Taylor Edwards owns 47 RBIs this season, a total that ranks 50th nationally and third in the Big Ten Conference. Edwards’ 47 RBIs tie for the most ever by a Husker junior, matching the mark set last season by Brooke Thomason. Edwards, who ranks fourth in school history with 152 RBIs, is just three RBIs shy of joining three-time All-American Ali Viola as the only Huskers to produce multiple 50-RBI seasons in a career. Previously, Edwards trailed only Viola as the top run-producing freshman in school history, driving in 67 runs in 2011.
Overall, Edwards ranks 26th nationally among all active Division I players with her 152 career RBIs, a total that ranks third among all non-seniors.
Thomason Records 200th Career Hit
Senior Brooke Thomason has hit safely in seven consecutive games, including six consecutive games with an RBI hit. Her RBI single last Saturday against Michigan marked her 200th career hit. Thomason is one of only eight players in school history to total 200 career hits, while she ranks tied for seventh in NU history with 201 career hits.
Tatum Edwards Taking on Increased Hitting Role
Junior Tatum Edwards has seen fewer at bats this season than in her first two years, when her bat helped her earn All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and All-Big Ten accolades in 2012. Edwards has been in the batting order in all 26 of her starts in the circle, but she has only started six games when she hasn’t been the starting pitcher. But according to Head Coach Rhonda Revelle, you can expect to see Edwards’ bat in the lineup for the rest of the season, regardless of whether she’s pitching.
Nebraska chose to limit Edwards’ at bats in part to allow her to focus on her role as ace of the Husker pitching staff. But Edwards has proven up to her role as ace and with the postseason nearing, Nebraska seeks to put its best lineup together. Edwards certainly figures into that lineup, as she has been red-hot at the plate. Likely to play in left field when she’s not pitching, Edwards has produced at least two hits in each of her last five starts in the lineup, which dates back to game two of a doubleheader against Minnesota on April 16. During that time, Edwards has gone 11-for-17 with seven runs scored, one double, three home runs and eight RBIs.
Breault Coming Up B1G From Designated Player Spot
Senior Courtney Breault has started 10 consecutive games as Nebraska’s designated player, emerging during Big Ten Conference play. Prior to her recent string of starts, Breault had earned only three starts through the season’s first 38 games.
In her 10 consecutive starts as Nebraska’s designated player, Breault has hit .387 (12-for-31) with four homers and 13 RBIs. Nine of those 10 starts have come against Big Ten teams, helping Breault post a .382 average (13-for-34) in conference play with one double, three home runs and 11 RBIs. She has also provided clutch hits, hitting a game-winning home run in the ninth inning at Purdue on April 20 and giving the Huskers breathing room with a two-run homer against Michigan on April 26. Breault collected six hits in the three-game series with the Wolverines, while overall she has produced her only three multi-hit games this season and her only four multi-RBI efforts during her streak of 10 consecutive starts.