One of the youngest groups in school history, the 2008 Husker softball team opens the program’s 33rd season this week against a strong field at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
A Nebraska squad that features seven freshmen, eight newcomers and no seniors for the first time in program history will be challenged from the season’s first pitch on Friday. NU’s grueling schedule features 26 games against 2007 NCAA Tournament teams, including five of the eight Women’s College World Series teams from a year ago.
As has been the case in recent years, Head Coach Rhonda Revelle will see her team tested early, although this season will mark the first time in eight years that NU will not face a top-25 opponent in the season opener. Instead, Nebraska opens the 2008 campaign against a strong California team that is currently just outside the top 25 in both polls. Although unranked, the Bears are widely regarded as one of the top programs in the nation, as Cal has made 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the WCWS 10 times. The Bears eliminated NU from postseason play in 2004 and 2006.
Nebraska will also face third-ranked Arizona State and No. 7 Northwestern this weekend, both of which have qualified for the past two Women’s College World Series.
Fans can follow all of this weekend’s action live, as the Huskers Sports Network will carry all five games, marking the first five games of a school-record broadcast schedule. Each of this weekend’s games will also be available for free on Huskers.com. The final three games of the tournament will be carried live in Lincoln on KLIN 1400 AM.
While the youthful Huskers may face a daunting challenge to open the season, there is no shortage of talent among this year’s 17-player roster, NU’s largest since 2003. Nebraska returns three juniors who have combined to earn four career All-Big 12 accolades, while the freshman and sophomore classes boast three high school All-Americans that collectively earned five first-team honors from the NFCA.
Two of the Huskers’ top returners are juniors Molly Hill and Crystal Carwile. Hill, who is unavailable to pitch this weekend, was the Big 12 ERA leader last season after posting a 1.05 mark while earning second-team all-conference honors. Carwile led NU in home runs and RBIs for the second straight year in 2007, and earned second-team All-Big 12 accolades for the second time in as many years.
Carwile will be surrounded by new faces on the infield on Friday, as the Huskers are expected to start freshmen at second and third and possibly short. NU will also feature a new catcher in Amanda Duran, an Arizona native who starred for two years at Pima CC in Tucson, earning a pair of first-team All-America and Catcher-of-the-Year awards.
Also enjoying a homecoming this weekend is junior Meghan Mullin, a Mesa, Ariz., native, who anchors the Husker outfield after leading NU with a .318 average last season. She is joined in the outfield by fellow junior returning starters Haley Long and Darcy Rutherford. Long earned All-Big 12 honors last season, while Rutherford enjoyed a breakout season.
Scouting the California Golden Bears
A young California team kicked off its 2008 schedule last weekend at Palm Springs, Calif., where the Golden Bears posted a 2-3 record, defeating UC Riverside and Winthrop and falling to San Diego State, New Mexico State and Mississippi State. The Bears, who are receiving votes in both polls, have a chance to even their record as they travel to San Jose State on Wednesday before facing the Huskers.
The Bears’ offense is averaging four runs per game, but Cal scored 17 runs in its two victories and just three runs in its three losses. Freshman Valerie Arioto started her career on a high note, hitting .467 in Palm Springs while leading the team in RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Katie Vickers (.417) and Erika Racklin (.412) each hit better than .400 last weekend as the Golden Bears posted a .283 team average. A team traditionally known for its power, Cal hit just one home run in Palm Springs, while recording a total of five extra-base hits for a .341 team slugging percentage.
In the circle, ace Marissa Drewrey performed well last weekend, despite some defensive struggles behind her. Drewrey posted a 2-1 record and a 0.73 ERA as only three of the nine runs she allowed were earned. Opponents managed to hit just .189 against her and she posted 40 strikeouts in only 28.2 innings. Behind Drewrey, Cal’s other two pitchers went 0-2 and surrendered nine earned runs in only 4.1 innings for a 14.55 ERA.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Cal, 15-12, including a 5-2, eight-inning victory last year in Las Vegas. The teams have split the last eight meetings, with NU winning all four regular-season matchups and Cal winning all four NCAA Tournament contests. The Bears eliminated the Huskers from postseason play in 2004 and 2006.
Scouting the Idaho State Bengals
When Idaho State opens its Kajikawa Classic schedule against Nebraska on Friday, the Bengals will be looking for their first win of the season. Idaho State went 0-4 last weekend at the BYU Red Desert Classic, but each game was decided by three runs or less.
Offensively, the Bengals hit just .240 but used a pair of home runs and seven doubles to score an average of 2.5 runs per game. Heather Dixon and Merissa Jannsen paced the offense as each hit better than .500 the opening weekend. Dixon batted .538 and belted a pair of home runs while driving in six of ISU’s nine runs and recording a 1.154 slugging percentage. Jannsen added a .500 average, but she struggled defensively at short, committing four errors in only 14 chances.
In the circle, Idaho State used a three-pitcher rotation, led by Andrea Coburn, who went 0-1 with a 3.71 ERA in a team-high 11.1 innings last weekend. Natasha Milosevic (0-2, 2.33 ERA in 6.0 innings) and Kandis Clesson (0-1, 4.85 ERA in 8.2 innings) each earned one start. As a staff, the trio posted just 13 strikeouts while issuing 19 walks as opponents reached base at a .408 clip.
Friday’s contest will mark the first-ever meeting between Nebraska and Idaho State in softball and only the second-ever meeting between the schools in any sport. The only other previous meeting came in women’s tennis, when NU defeated the Bengals.
Scouting the Arizona State Sun Devils
A talented Arizona State team will be playing its ninth game of the season when the Huskers open the second day of their campaign with a road trip to Farrington Stadium on Saturday. The third-ranked Sun Devils are 3-1 heading into their home opener against Western Kentucky on Thursday.
Aside from a season-opening 8-0 victory, ASU has been in some close games, defeating Texas Tech, 2-0, before beating Loyola-Chicago, 8-6. ASU was handed its first loss on a seventh-inning, walk-off homer in a 2-1 setback to UNLV. The Sun Devils opened last season with 19 straight victories while winning 29 of their first 30 games.
Arizona State is led by a pair of returning All-Americans and National Player-of-the-Year candidates in pitcher Katie Burkhart and outfielder Kaitlin Cochran. After hitting .492 last season with 17 homers and 61 RBIs en route to earning her second straight first-team All-America selection, Cochran, a junior, went 3-for-8 last weekend. She tallied a home run and five RBIs, and was also walked seven times in only four games.
In the circle, Burkhart posted a 1-1 record last weekend, while surrendering just five hits and only one earned run in 13.0 innings of work, good for a 0.54. A dominant lefty, Burkhart also recorded 12 strikeouts in each of her first two starts, an average of almost two strikeouts per inning.
Arizona State leads the all-time series, 16-10, and the Sun Devils have won five straight in the series and seven of the last eight. NU and ASU have met only once since 2000, with the Sun Devils topping the Huskers 6-3 in 2004. Nebraska is 0-4 all-time at Arizona State, but three of those losses came in 1979, before softball was an NCAA sport. In their only recent contest at ASU, the Huskers lost 7-1 in 2000.
Scouting the Memphis Tigers
After losing its first three games of the season, Memphis rebounded to win its final two games and finish with a 2-3 record last weekend in Tampa, Fla. After falling to Illinois, 8-5, in their season opener, the Tigers were shut out in back-to-back losses, falling to South Florida, 7-0, and to Florida, 8-0 in five innings. Memphis then rallied to post a pair of extra-inning victories, defeating Florida Gulf Coast, 7-4, and Bethune Cookman, 6-0 in eight innings.
Offensively, the Tigers hit just .181 but made the most of their opportunities, averaging nearly four runs per contest despite being shut out twice. Leigh Rowan was the only Tiger to hit better than .250, as she hit .385 while hitting two home runs and producing four RBIs.
In the circle, Janelle Valle, Kimber Bossom and Rayna McClinton each saw extensive ction. Valley posted a 1-0 record with a team-low 2.33 ERA in a team-high 12.0 innings of work. McClinton (1-0, 3.23 ERA in 8.2 innings) and Bossom (0-1, 3.28 ERA in 10.2 innings) posted similar numbers, although Bossom’s defense was less than stellar as seven of her 12 runs allowed were unearned.
Saturday’s game will mark the first-ever meeting between Nebraska and Memphis.
Scouting the Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern is the lone Nebraska opponent this weekend who is opening its season in Tempe. The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back Women’s College World Series, finishing 52-13 record and a No. 4 ranking one season after advancing to the WCWS Championship series.
Tammy Williams returns to lead the Wildcat offense in 2008 after leading the team with a .425 average and 14 stolen bases in 2007. She also added 16 home runs and 50 RBIs, as Northwestern belted 85 home runs and scored 350 runs last season. Williams, a first-team All-American in 2007, is the lone returning All-American for the Wildcats, after NU boasted three All-Americans in 2007.
One of the All-Americans Northwestern will have to replace is pitcher Eileen Canney. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they return sophomore Lauren Delaney. In an outstanding freshman season, Delaney went 19-2 with a 1.73 ERA , holding opponents to a meager .172 average.
Northwestern leads the all-time series, 5-4. The Huskers won four of the first five meetings, but the Wildcats have won the last four in the series. The teams have not met since 1995, when Northwestern won, 11-4. Northwestern is one of only three teams on the 2008 schedule that head coach Rhonda Revelle has not defeated, excluding first-time meetings.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest to keep in mind as Nebraska opens its 2008 season this weekend.
Nebraska is 109-58 (.653) all-time in the month of February, including a 7-5 mark last season and a 100-55 (.645) record under Coach Revelle. Revelle has posted a winning month of February 11 times in 14 seasons, including six straight years dating back to 2001. During the past six seasons, NU has gone 53-22 (.707). Prior to Revelle’s arrival, the Huskers had played only 12 all-time games in the month (9-3 record) and in Revelle’s first season in 1993, NU did not play a single game in February.
The Huskers play at No. 3 Arizona State on Saturday, marking their first true road game of the season. In 2007, Nebraska finished 5-9 in true road games, NU’s first losing road record since 1995. Of those nine losses, each came to a ranked team, including eight at top-15 foes with five of those setbacks coming by just a single run.
The matchup at Arizona State will mark Nebraska’s first true road contest against a Pac-10 opponent since losing 5-1 at Stanford in the 2001 NCAA Regional. Since that game, the Huskers have faced a Pac-10 opponent 32 times, posting a 14-18 overall record, including a 14-15 mark at neutral sites and an 0-3 mark at home, with each home loss coming in NCAA Regional play. NU’s last regular-season road contest against a Pac-10 opponent was a loss at Arizona State in an ASU-hosted season-opening tournament in 2000.
Coach Revelle has played games against teams from 27 different conferences in her career at Nebraska. She owns a winning record against every conference, with the exception of the Pac-10 (32-44 all-time).
Nebraska’s two active pitchers this weekend - sophomore Alex Hupp and freshman Tori Tyson - have combined to throw just 17.2 innings at the Division I level.
Nebraska is 257-4 since 2000 when leading after six innings of play. The Huskers had won 106 consecutive games when taking a lead into the seventh inning before losing a 9-6 lead at No. 4 Oklahoma last April.
Crystal Carwile is Nebraska’s active leader with 99 career hits. Prior to this season, NU could boast at least one player with 100 career hits entering every season since 1995. If Carwile records a hit against Cal on Friday, it will mark the 770th consecutive game the NU lineup has had at least one member of the 100-hit club.
Carwile is also Nebraska’s active leader in career doubles, triples home runs and RBIs. In fact, Carwile’s career total is higher than the combined total of every other Husker in all four categories.
Hill Out For Opening Weekend
Junior right-hander Molly Hill, the reigning Big 12 ERA champion, is unavailable to pitch this weekend due to a knee injury. Hill suffered the injury the final week of January and was expected to miss 2-4 weeks. She is expected to be available on a limited basis for the Cardinal Classic next weekend in Louisville, Ky.
Gonzalez Out With Injury Again
After missing the final 22 games of the 2007 season due to a knee injury, sophomore Crystal Gonzalez was hit by the injury bug again this winter when she re-injured the same knee at home in California over the holiday break. Gonzalez is expected to miss the entire 2008 campaign and has a redshirt season available.
The 2008 freshman class is already making a name for itself, as the seven-player class is the largest group of freshmen ever assembled under Head Coach Rhonda Revelle. Not only are they strong in numbers, the freshmen also figure to have a strong presence in the lineup right from the season’s first pitch.
Nebraska’s season-opening lineup is expected to feature four freshmen, which is believed to be the most freshmen starting in an opening game since Revelle took over the program in 1993. The Huskers could possibly pencil in as many as six freshmen into the same starting lineup this season.
Last season, all three members of NU’s freshman class earned a start in the season-opener against No. 24 Auburn, marking the first time in five seasons Nebraska started more than two freshmen in a season opener.
Revelle Nears 600th Wins
Head Coach Rhonda Revelle boasts a career record of 598-311, including a 590-295 mark at Nebraska. Already the first women’s coach of any sport in school history with 500 career wins, Revelle ranks third all-time among all coaches in NU history with her 590 wins at Nebraska.
Carwile Nears 100th Hit
Junior Crystal Carwile needs only one hit this weekend to record her 100th career hit. With 99 hits through her first two seasons, Carwile is on pace to become only the eighth player in school history to record 200 career hits and the first since All-American Anne Steffan, who finished with 217 hits from 2002 to 2005.
Hill Named to National Player of the Year Watch List
Junior right-hander Molly Hill earned a prestigious preseason honor on Jan. 30, when she was one of 50 players nationally selected to the watch list for the 2008 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Hill was one of nine Big 12 players – and one of six league pitchers – named to the preseason watch list, which also consisted of players from 14 different conferences.
Huskers Continue Tough Opening-Game Trend
Nebraska will again face a tough opponent in the season-opener against California on Friday. Although the Bears aren’t currently ranked among the top 25, Cal is traditionally one of the Pac-10 Conference’s best teams, advancing to 22 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including 10 Women’s College World Series berths. Meeting a tough opponent on the first day of the season is nothing new for the Huskers, who opened the season against a top-25 team for seven consecutive seasons prior to this year.
Last season, Nebraska snapped a three-game losing streak in season openers by defeating 25th-ranked Auburn, 1-0 in eight innings. NU also faced Hawaii on the first day of the 2007 season, falling 4-3. The Rainbow Wahine fell one game short of advancing to the Women’s College World Series, snapping a string of three consecutive seasons where the Huskers faced a team on opening day that would go on to make that season’s WCWS.
Nebraska is 3-4 in its last seven season openers. The Huskers have not won both games on the season’s opening day since 2003, when NU went 5-0 at the Arizona State/Fiesta Bowl Classic. The Huskers started 8-0 that season, tying the 1995 squad for the best start in school history.
Trio of Juniors Look to Continue Trend of Hot Starts
Nebraska will likely rely heavily on offensive production from juniors Crystal Carwile, Meghan Mullin and Haley Long this season. After all, Carwile and Long are the only returning All-Big 12 hitters on the roster, while Mullin, Carwile and Long finished 1-2-3, respectively, on the team in batting average last season.
With the Huskers expected to work several new players into the lineup this season, NU hopes each player will be ready to go from the season’s first pitch. If recent history is any indication, that shouldn’t be a concern.
In the first tournament of a season, Carwile, Mullin and Long have gotten off to fast starts. Carwile was especially spectacular in her debut at the 2006 Kajikawa Classic, belting more home runs in those five games than any other current Husker has hit in her entire career. Mullin is a career .345 hitter in season-opening tournaments, while Long made a splash last season, hitting .467 and producing four RBIs in Nebraska’s seven games at Hawaii.
Juniors Add Veteran Presence to Young Lineup
With nearly half the roster filled by newcomers, the Huskers will count on their veteran presence through the early parts of this season. Despite not having a single senior, NU has a deep and talented junior class of six returning players and one newcomer. While the entire class will be counted on to produce, Molly Hill and Crystal Carwile enter 2008 with an overwhelming amount of experience and production.
Hill has thrown 318.0 career innings, 300.1 more innings than the rest of NU’s staff combined. The only other returning pitcher is sophomore Alex Hupp, who threw just 17.2 innings last season and made her final appearance in the 20th game of the season. Offensively, Carwile has 32 more starts than any other position player while recording 139 more at bats. She also boasts more career doubles, triples, home runs and RBIs than the rest of the Husker roster combined.
While Hill and Carwile are the most proven, the rest of the junior class should also help solidify the young squad. Haley Long joins Hill and Carwile as a returning All-Big 12 performer, while Meghan Mullin led the team in average and stolen bases in 2007. Brittany Pascale cracked the NU single-season top 10 in walks last season and Darcy Rutherford enjoyed a breakout campaign while posting a .375 on-base percentage.
Together, the returning juniors add a solid core to the new-look Huskers, while adding leadership on and off the field. The lone newcomer among the class, Amanda Duran brings plenty to the table as well, as she was a two-time first-team All-American and two-time Catcher of the Year for Pima (Ariz.) CC the past two seasons.
Carwile Provides Powerful Punch to Lineup
One of the biggest questions the Huskers will seek to answer in non-conference play is which players will emerge as run-producers for a talented, yet inexperienced lineup. With ample speed at the top of the order and a solid pitching staff, the ability of Nebraska’s middle hitters to drive in runs becomes crucial.
Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is confident that several newcomers will step up to fill those roles, but NU does have the added comfort of having at least one proven veteran batting in the middle of the order. That veteran is junior Crystal Carwile, who has earned a pair of All-Big 12 accolades through her first two seasons.
A quick look at several major power statistics offer proof of Carwile’s production, while also offering a glimpse of the inexperience of Nebraska’s other power-hitting candidates. Carwile is far and away the Huskers’ most prolific returning power hitter. In fact, Carwile hit more home runs in her first seven career games (five) than Nebraska’s seven other returning hitters have slugged in a combined 426 career games.
Hill Prepares to Defend Big 12 ERA Crown
Junior right-hander Molly Hill is looking to become just the third pitcher in the history of the Big 12 Conference to repeat as the league’s ERA champion. Hill posted a 1.05 ERA as a sophomore last season, but she will have plenty of competition to defend her title, as each of the conference’s top four pitchers in ERA return this season.
Hill joined Peaches James (0.70 in 2004) as the only Huskers to ever lead the Big 12 in ERA. Hill also became only the fifth underclassmen to post the conference’s best ERA and the first since three-time National Player of the Year Cat Osterman in 2003.
Hill and Mullin Return After Posting Team-Best Marks in 2007
Juniors Molly Hill and Meghan Mullin return this season after leading Nebraska in ERA and batting average, respectively, as sophomores in 2007.
Hill, who also led the Big 12 Conference with a 1.05 ERA, became the first underclassmen to lead the league in ERA since three-time National Player of the Year Cat Ostermann in 2003 and just the fifth underclassmen overall.
Mullin meanwhile became the first Husker underclassmen to lead the team in average since All-American Anne Steffan, who hit .362 as a sophomore in 2003.
Together, Hill and Mullin became just the third underclassmen tandem to lead the Huskers in both ERA and average over the past 10 seasons. The previous two times, Nebraska used the returning experience the next season to advance to the 1998 Women’s College World Series and sweep the 2004 Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles.