LINCOLN – The Nebraska softball team wraps up its seven-game homestand with a key three-game Big Ten Conference series against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Bowlin Stadium.
The weekend series pits two of the hottest teams in the conference against each other, as Nebraska and Illinois are a combined 19-4 this month. The Illini have won eight straight games while the Huskers have won 11 of their last 14 games. Both Illinois and Nebraska have posted sweeps in three of their first four three-game Big Ten Conference weekend series.
Illinois enters this weekend in third place in the conference standings but tied in the loss column with second-place Michigan. Nebraska enters the series in fifth place in the Big Ten standings, one game behind Ohio State. The top four teams earn a bye at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Huskers are hoping for great support from the home crowd this weekend, as several fan-friendly promotions are scheduled for the series. As part of Military Appreciation Weekend, active and former military personnel will receive free admission into all three games this weekend with their Military ID, beginning with Friday’s series opener at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday is also the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate. The tailgate begins at Noon and includes a free lunch to the first 2,000 people. Fans are then encouraged to stay and watch Nebraska take on Illinois at 3 p.m., with free general admission seating for all fans. Sunday’s finale is set for Noon.
All three games will also feature a free live radio broadcast on Huskers.com and the final two games are available to watch with a BTN Plus subscription.
This Week's Top 10
1) Nebraska has won nine of its last 11 Big Ten Conference games, while Illinois has won 10 of its last 12 conference games.
2) Both Nebraska and Illinois have swept three of their first four three-game Big Ten Conference series.
3) The Huskers have won more games this month (10) than in the first two months of the season combined (9).
4) Nebraska is in fifth place in the Big Ten standings as one of only five teams with a winning record in conference play (9-5).
5) Three of NU’s last four games have been decided in the final inning (two walk-off wins vs. Penn State and an eight-inning loss to Kansas).
6) After this weekend, Nebraska will have played 21 of its 45 games vs. ranked teams (43 percent).
7) The Huskers host the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday. The tailgate begins at Noon with the game set for 3 p.m., and admission into both the tailgate and game is free.
8) Nebraska set a record last season when 2,302 fans attended the tailgate and game vs. Michigan.
9) MJ Knighten is one of 10 finalists for the 2017 Senior CLASS Award, the first finalist for the award in program history. Fans can vote for Knighten at www.seniorclassaward.com/vote.
10) Alyvia Simmons leads the Big Ten with 21 hits and nine doubles in conference play.
Nebraska will host its fifth annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday, an event which promises to be a fun-filled day full of free activities for fans of all ages.
• The tailgate begins at Noon in the parking lot behind the left field fence at Bowlin Stadium. The free tailgate will include a video game truck, a virtual reality batting cage, inflatables, Husker cheerleaders and a live band.
• The tailgate is not only free but includes a free lunch to the first 2,000 people. The free lunch includes one hot dog, one bag of chips and one Pepsi product.
• Not only is the tailgate free, but admission into Nebraska’s game with Illinois at 3 p.m. is also free. All seating is general admission, with the exception of season ticket holder seats, which will be reserved.
• Nebraska set a record last season when 2,306 fans came out to the tailgate and NU’s game with Michigan.
Simmons is Double Trouble
Sophomore Alyvia Simmons went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles on Wednesday vs. Kansas, marking her third game this season with multiple doubles.
• She has slugged two doubles three times in her past nine games, totaling nine doubles in those nine games.
• Simmons has produced a career-high 14 doubles this season, a total that is tied for seventh in NU history.
• Simmons has totaled nine doubles in 14 Big Ten games. That total leads the league and is three more than any other Big Ten player has produced.
• With her next double in conference play, Simmons would become the fourth Big Ten player to record 10 doubles in league play since the conference adopted a 23-game schedule beginning in 2012.
• The record for doubles during conference play under the current scheduling format is 12 by Wisconsin’s Whitney Massey in 2012. Ohio State’s Krinon Clark holds the overall record for doubles during a conference season with 15 doubles in 28 Big Ten games in 1994.
Huskers Hot in April
Despite losing in extra innings to Kansas on Wednesday, Nebraska boasts a 10-3 record this month.
• Nebraska has posted more wins in April (10) than it did in February (2) and March (7) combined (9).
• The Huskers have posted both a seven-game and three-game winning streak this month. NU had only one three-game winning streak in the first two months of the year.
• Nebraska’s three April losses are by a combined six runs.
Nebraska vs. Ranked Teams
Nebraska is 4-14 against ranked opponents this season heading into its weekend series with No. 25 Illinois.
• The Huskers have won three consecutive games against ranked opponents after sweeping a three-game series at then-No. 22 Wisconsin March 31-April 2.
• Following this weekend’s three-game series with No. 25 Illinois, Nebraska will have played 47 percent of its schedule against teams ranked in the NFCA poll at game time (21 of its 45 games) and 53 percent of its schedule against teams that have been ranked at some point this season (24 of its 45 games).
Scouting No. 25 Illinois (32-10 Overall, 10-2 Big Ten)
Illinois brings a 32-10 overall record into this weekend’s series after defeating Butler, 8-2, at home on Wednesday. The Fighting Illini’s 32 wins are tied with Michigan for the second-most victories of any Big Ten team this season. Illinois has won eight straight games, the second-longest active win streak among Big Ten teams behind Minnesota’s 11-game win streak. Fueled by its recent strong play, the Illini were ranked 25th in this week’s NFCA poll, marking their first ranking since the 2012 preseason NFCA poll and first in-season ranking since 2011.
In addition to an eight-game overall win streak, Illinois has won six straight conference games. The Fighting Illini are third in the Big Ten standings with a 10-2 record. Illinois has swept three of its first four conference series while also losing two of three games against league-leading Minnesota, who is currently ranked fifth.
Nebraska and Illinois share five common opponents in Auburn, California, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri. The Huskers posted a 1-7 record against that group with the lone win over Missouri while the Fighting Illini went 4-6 with a three-game sweep of the Hawkeyes and a win Minnesota, the Golden Gophers’ only Big Ten loss.
Illinois boasts one of the nation’s top offense, ranking 13th nationally in scoring (6.3 runs per game), 15th in batting average (.326), 15th in slugging percentage (.495) and 19th in doubles per game (1.5). The Fighting Illini offense has matched its season averages in conference play, posting a .325 batting average in Big Ten games while averaging 6.0 runs per game.
Nicole Evans is one of seven Illinois starters hitting .320 or higher. Evans leads the Illini with a .387 average, 15 home runs and 51 RBIs. She leads the Big Ten lead and ranks 11th nationally in home runs, while ranking 12th nationally in RBIs and eighth with an .879 slugging percentage. Evans ranks ninth among all active Division I players with 50 career homers, one shy of the Illini record.
Maddi Doane is batting .363 for the Fighting Illini with 24 RBIs, and she leads the Illini with a .444 average and three steals in Big Ten play. Annie Fleming is hitting .355 with a team-high 13 doubles to go along with five homers and 30 RBIs. Kiana Sherlund owns a .351 average and has stolen a team-high 11 bases in 12 attempts. Stephanie Abello is batting .333 and has slugged 10 home runs, while Alyssa Gunther (.331) and Leigh Farina (.320) round out the Fighting Illini starters hitting above .300. Gunther ranks second on the team with a .436 batting average in conference play, while Farina is third with a .393 average.
Defensively, Illinois boasts a 3.02 ERA and is allowing an average of 4.0 runs per game. In conference play, the Fighting Illini own a 2.45 ERA but are allowing 4.0 runs per game, as they have allowed 21 unearned runs in their 12 conference games.
Breanna Wonderly has thrown more than half of the team’s total innings this season, compiling a 15-9 record with a 2.42 ERA in 147.2 innings. She has appeared in 29 of Illinois’ 42 games, making 23 starts and throwing 15 complete games. Opponents are hitting just .238 against her but have homered 21 times. Wonderly is also tied for the Big Ten lead and ranks fourth nationally with four saves. In Big Ten play, Wonderly is 8-2 with one save and a 1.77 ERA, ranking second in the league in wins and fourth in ERA during conference action.
Taylor Edwards has also seen extensive action, posting a sparkling 14-1 record with a 2.38 ERA in 88.1 innings. She has started 15 games - including a win over Butler on Wednesday - but has only thrown two complete games. Edwards boasts a 1-0 record with a 4.29 ERA in league play.
Erin Walker is the only other Illinois pitcher who has thrown more than 6.2 innings this season. Walker is 3-0 with a 4.67 ERA in 27.0 innings, including a 1-0 record in conference play. Danielle Brochu (0-0, 9.45 ERA in 6.2 IP), Akilah Mouzon (0-0, 1 save, 5.83 ERA in 6.0 IP), Kate Giddens (0-0, 1.91 ERA in 3.2 IP) and Hanna Nilsen (0-0, 16.80 ERA in 3.1 IP) round out the Fighting Illini staff.