Rohr of the Crowd is the official blog of Nate Rohr, the
play-by-play announcer for Husker softball. Nate has called Nebraska
softball games since 2004 and will call every game of the 2013 season.
Nate is not employed by the University of Nebraska and the opinions and
content of this blog are his own. Look for new blog entries weekly.
And So It Begins, Again...
Opening day. Beyond just the first game of the
year, on the diamond, it means rebirth, renewal and starting over. It's a fresh
start to the year, just as everything outside is coming alive again.
This is a year of rebirth, renewal and starting
over for Husker Softball. Ashley Hagemann, who set the school record for career
strikeouts with 988 while pitching 87 percent of the innings and recording 81
percent of the strikeouts for Nebraska the last two years, is gone. Nikki Haget,
a three-year mainstay in centerfield and in the leadoff spot, is gone. Ashley
Guile, a four-year starter in the heart of the order, is gone.
But a talented freshman class moves in. Hailey
Decker, Emily Lockman and Alicia Armstrong were named the high school players
of the year in their respective states last year. Kiki Stokes was named an
All-American last year. It's a group that will have to step up early. Armstrong
will likely start at shortstop, Decker will likely start second base and Stokes
is the probable starter in centerfield on opening day. Dawna Tyson is in the
mix at first base. If Tyson starts at first when Emily Lockman is pitching, as
much as half of the Huskers starting lineup will be first-year players.
But we've seen freshmen make an impact, whether
its nationally, in the Big Ten or even at Nebraska. Dallas Escobedo pitched
Arizona State to a national championship two years ago as a freshman. UCLA's
Stephany LaRosa hit a blistering .436 while slugging .807 in her first year
with the Bruins last year. Lauren Chamberlain blasted an incredible 30 home
runs while hitting .357 as a first-year Sooner. In the Big Ten, freshmen
pitchers Sara Driesenga (.340 batting average, 9-10, 2.53 ERA, 23 games
started) and Haylie Wagner (32-7, 1.53 ERA, 34 games started) drove Michigan to
its fifth straight Big Ten championship. Two years ago, Minnesota's Sara
Moulton dominated the Big Ten in her first year of college ball (28-16, 2.06,
330 strikeouts), and the Gophers got a great first year last year from shortstop
Tyler Walker (.380 batting average, nine homers, 16 stolen bases).
And fresh in all of our minds was Taylor Edwards'
All-America season for Nebraska two years ago, when she hit 18 home runs, drove
in 67 runs, slugged .738 and batted .356.
In other words, freshmen can step onto the stage
of college softball and make an immediate impact. It would be unfair to expect
the 2013 Husker freshmen to have the same impact as Edwards or any of the
others listed above, but history shows that freshmen can make a difference
right away, and the talent this freshman class possesses means that it is
equipped to make an impact from day one.
Despite losing two mainstays of the starting
offensive lineup (and another two-year starter in left fielder Madison Drake), there's
plenty back in the Nebraska lineup. Brooke Thomason has been a consistent
performer for the Huskers in her three years. Tatum Edwards built off a solid
freshman season, cutting her strikeouts at the plate by 18 while boosting her
average by 16 points against a tougher schedule in her sophomore year. We've
mentioned Taylor Edwards' brilliant freshman season performance, and Gabby
Banda, Courtney Breault and Mattie Fowler are all solid contributing parts in
Pitching is the big question for the 2013 Huskers.
Hagemann got the bulk of the work in the circle the last two years, so what
those behind her can do is a crucial unknown entering this season. Tatum
Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance during her short career, but
consistency has been an issue for her in her first two years at NU. If Edwards
can stay in the strike zone, her stuff is good enough to be an ace for a
successful team in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Emily Lockman's pedigree is
promising. Her 74-19 career record with an 0.89 ERA against the best high
school competition strongly suggests she's ready to make the jump to college
ball. Her superb 13-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in her career shows excellent
control. But Lockman tends to pitch to contact, and freshmen that are successful
tend to be those that strike out a lot of batters. Can Lockman's style
translate effectively to college-level competition in her first year?
That's one of many questions that we'll answer
over the next 56 (and hopefully more!) games. With such a young team,
inconsistency may be a fact of life, especially in the early part of the
season. But lows may be rapidly followed by highs. And young players have been
and can be successful, if they figure it out in time. Whatever the journey
might be, it all starts again on Friday.
Up and Down Schedule
Last year's non-conference schedule was tough
throughout, constructed to hopefully build an NCAA Regional-hosting resume for
Nebraska, with three ranked foes (Washington, Arizona and Georgia Tech) facing
the Huskers in the first week, four more ranked teams (Oregon, Missouri, Texas
and Washington) in the third week, and two more games against nationally-ranked
Texas A&M the following week. This schedule may end up being similarly
tough, but is a little more uneven in terms of the difficulty of the schedule
Nebraska will face just one ranked team (No. 13
Arizona) in the first two weeks. But the Mary Nutter Classic (formerly the
Cathedral City Classic) in week three is shaping up to be a gauntlet for the
Huskers. Of the five teams Nebraska is slated to play in Southern California,
three qualified for the WCWS last year (Oklahoma, Cal and Oregon) and Florida
State is ranked 25th entering this season. NU gets two more cracks at the
Sooners the following weekend and will also tussle with an Oklahoma State team
that is just two years removed from the WCWS and that no-hit the Huskers last
year in Stillwater.
In other words, we may not know right away where
Nebraska will stack up with the nation's best teams, but by the end of the
first month of the season, we'll have a great idea of where the Huskers are,
and where they need to go.
Skipping way ahead on the schedule, keep the week
of April 22 clear of any social plans. Nebraska hosts Creighton on Wednesday,
April 24. Then two days later, Nebraska will host a three-game series against
Michigan, the lone ranked Big Ten team in the preseason poll. That weekend, the
Huskers will try to again set the world record for largest softball tailgate.
We'll have more details closer to the event. To boot, those could be huge games in determining the Big Ten race. The
Wolverines have won the last five and 15 of the last 20 Big Ten Championships,
and with both pitchers and six of nine hitters back offensively, it's safe to
say they'll be in the thick of the race again this year.
Then, two weeks later, Bowlin Stadium hosts a
conference tournament for the first time in its 12-year history, as the Big Ten
Tournament comes to Lincoln. Postseason softball at Bowlin is always an
electric atmosphere, and it's been since 2007 that we've seen postseason
softball at 400 Line Drive Circle. Of course, there will be a regional bid on
the line as well.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
I want to congratulate three guys who are, in
different ways, responsible for me having the opportunity to broadcast Husker
Softball, for a couple of milestone acheivements.
The first two, Matt Coatney and Jeff Griesch,
celebrated their 400th broadcast of Nebraska women's basketball together on the
Husker Sports Network last Sunday. Without both of them, I would not be in a
position to call Husker Softball.
Griesch recommended me to be hired to the Nebraska
Sports Information Department as a college freshman in the fall of 2003. Simply
put, he snuck me in the front door of Husker Athletics. Without his
recommedation for that first job, I wouldn't have been in a position to serve
as the softball public address announcer in the spring of 2004, and I certainly
wouldn't have been in a place to do the radio broadcasts for the 2004 Big 12
Tournament. I cannot imagine where my career would be without his help, early
and often. So many great things has happened, just because he showed that early
faith in me.
Coatney has been a broadcasting mentor since I was
in high school, when I was working at KWBE and running the board for the
MUDECAS high school basketball tournament in Beatrice. Coatney would come down
and assist KWBE Sports Director Bryan Cook in calling the tournament. He gave me my first shot on the air of a
play-by-play broadcast as his color man while I was still in high school. Then,
when I was in college, as I'd sit in the C-Section of the Devaney Center and
call basketball into a tape recorder, Coatney would sit down and listen to the
tapes, painstakingly slicing through the stammering to make sure I was using
good verbs and giving the score often enough. Immediately after my first Husker
Softball broadcast, a victory over Texas in 2004 Big 12 Tournament, Coatney
called the press box at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium to tell me that I had sounded
good. To this day, he'll text me if he happens upon one of my broadcasts, whether
it's Husker Softball or a random high school game that I've picked up, and it
makes me feel like a million bucks.
Matt and Jeff's broadcasts serve as something of a
template for what I want to do on the air with the softball broadcasts. Along
with a vivid picture of the game, they bring an encyclopaedic knowledge of the
sport of women's basketball to every broadcast. At a school like Nebraska,
which aspires to success on the national stage, that knowledge of the world of
women's college basketball is critical to providing the full picture of what's
going on with the Husker women's basketball program. So, congrats, gentlemen.
Hopefully you have another 400 in you.
My third congratulations is to my broadcast
colleague, Matt Smith, who starts his 10th season as softball media relations
director on Friday. In every way he can, he tries to bring greater positive
attention to the sport of college softball and to the athletes who play it. He
tries to increase broadcast coverage, which he done successfully, from 10 to 12
games on the Pinnacle Sports Network in his first year to the entire schedule
on Huskers.com the last four years. He helps the coaches by building various
stat or information packs for them to sift through, helping them do their jobs
better. And, because his game notes are the best in the country and the media
guide is the best in the country, he makes my job immeasurably easier. Thanks
for everything Matt, and congratulations on a decade with Husker Softball!
New and Improved
We've made some additions to our broadcasts for
this season. The first is the beginning of a Pick to Click before each game.
Essentially, Matt and I will select a player of the game before each game. The
scoring system for determining which player performed the best that game is still in the works. We'll keep track of who makes the most right selections, and Matt will
probably make fun of me as he inevitably surges ahead in the standings.
Because we're typically an internet-only broadcast
and don't have advertising on our broadcasts, we have some extra time that
other broadcasts don't have. This year, we're choosing to fill that time with
audio features, including interviews with Husker players and coaches, and
updates on what else is going on in the world of college softball.
We'll have more on methods of following the
Huskers this year on Friday, but know that you'll be able to every game on
Huskers.com, on your tablet or smartphone on the official Nebraska Athletics
app, and in the stadium on an FM radio. The frequency will change from
week-to-week, but simply check in with us in the booth or scan your FM dial at
the stadium. At Bowlin Stadium, the frequency will always be 95.5 FM.
Follow @RohrOfTheCrowd on Twitter to not only grab
the frequency for the in-stadium broadcast, but also additional notes about
Husker Softball and the softball world as a whole. And you should already be
following @HuskerSoftball, as Katie Brown will be tweeting inning recaps and
other info about Husker Softball.
Weekend Warmup: The Hotel Encanto Classic
Nebraska heads to Las Cruces, N.M., for the fourth
straight year. For the second time in four years, the Huskers open their season
in the Land of Enchantment.
Nebraska opens its season against Illinois-Chicago
from the Horizon League. UIC and NU will face off three times in New Mexico.
The Flames' coaching staff has a strong Big Ten flavor, as head coach Michelle
Venturella (an Indiana grad) is joined by former Iowa player Sami Baugh and
former Northwestern player and two-time Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Eileen
Canney-Linnehan. UIC finished 26-26, 12-9 in the Horizon League in 2012. The Flames
tallied 4.5 runs per game last year, hitting a solid .293 as a team. Six of the
top seven hitters for Illinois-Chicago return. Only two pitchers threw a pitch
for the Flames last year. Devin Miller, a senior right-hander, returns (14-13,
3.79, 32 starts), but Ashley Hewett (11-13, 3.65, 19 starts), departs.
The Huskers face New Mexico State for the
first of four times this season on Friday afternoon. The Aggies were 24-29 last
year, 5-16 in the WAC. NMSU's offense was solid as always, tallying 4.7 runs
per game and hitting .281 as a team. Only three of the top six hitters by
batting average return, but Amber Olive, the Aggies' leading hitter at .374, is
one of the returners. New Mexico State struggled in the circle, with a team ERA
of 4.08. The three pitchers who saw significant time in the circle for the
Aggies return, including Alex Newman, who saw the lion's share of the work (25
starts, 10-14, 4.22 ERA). Karysta Donisthorpe was 6-10 with a 3.73 ERA in 16
starts. NMSU was picked third in a preseason poll in the WAC, receiving one
first place vote.
The Huskers close their stay in Las Cruces with a
matchup against New Mexico on Sunday. The Lobos start the weekend in
Tempe, Ariz., participating in the Kajikawa Classic. They'll take on Creighton
in the season opener, and WCWS teams Arizona State and Oklahoma later in the
weekend. New Mexico started red-hot in 2012, beating Oregon, Northwestern, Oregon State
and Texas A&M, en route to a 17-2 start that saw the Lobos ranked for a few
weeks. But New Mexico struggled to a 27-25 record for the season, just 2-10 in
the Mountain West. The Lobos were tremendous on offense, scoring 6.7 runs per
game while hitting .311 and slugging .568. New Mexico lost five starters from
the lineup, including All-America catcher Jessica Garcia, who hit .448 with 24
homers and 68 RBI. Stefanie Carramusa is also gone from last year's roster,
after hitting .366 with 23 homers and 49 RBI. All three pitchers are back for
the Lobos, but the New Mexico staff pitched to a 5.46 team ERA after walking
195 batters while striking out 147 last year.
That's all for now...we'll talk to you Friday from
Go Big Red!