The 16th-ranked Nebraska softball team welcomes No. 9 Michigan to Bowlin Stadium this weekend in a battle of the Big Ten’s top two teams. The Huskers and Wolverines open the series on Friday at 6 p.m. before facing off at 1 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.
The Wolverines are the hottest team in the country, bringing a nation-leading 22-game win streak into the weekend. Michigan has also won 21 consecutive conference games dating back to 2012, as the Wolverines are in first place in the Big Ten standings with a 16-0 record. Nebraska is second in the league with a 12-4 record, and the Huskers find themselves in contention for a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament with a No. 10 RPI ranking.
In addition to what promises to be a competitive series, Nebraska will be celebrating its second annual World’s Largest Softball Tailgate on Saturday. The Huskers’ inaugural event was a success in 2012, as a record 1,752 fans attended the tailgate, eclipsing Illinois’ previous record of 1,445 fans.
Saturday’s tailgate begins at 10 a.m. and promises to be fun for the whole family. Admission is free to the tailgate and the Huskers’ 1 p.m. game with Michigan. Free hot dogs, chips and Pepsi products will be given out while supplies last. The tailgate will feature inflatables, balloon artists, face painting and a live pregame radio show, while members of the Nebraska softball team, as well as student-athletes from other Husker teams will sign autographs before the game.
Although Saturday’s game is free, fans will need tickets to watch the Big Ten’s two best teams battle on Friday and Sunday. Fans can purchase tickets online at Huskers.com, over the phone by calling 1-800-8-BIG-RED or on game days at Bowlin Stadium beginning 90 minutes prior to first pitch.
Fans unable to make it out to Bowlin Stadium can follow every game this weekend. Saturday’s game will be televised live on BTN, with Kevin Kugler providing the play-by-play and former Michigan All-American Jennie Ritter adding analysis. Sunday’s game will air on BTN on a tape-delayed basis beginning at 2 p.m., while Nate Rohr will call every game live for a free radio broadcast on Huskers.com.
This weekend’s series marks the final regular-season home games for Nebraska, with the Huskers’ four-player senior class being honored following their final regular-season home game on Sunday. NU hopes the home-field advantage helps cool off the red-hot Wolverines. Nebraska has been won 90 percent of its home games the past two seasons, posting a 27-3 record, including a 16-2 record in Big Ten Conference games. Overall, Nebraska has won 33 of its last 37 home games dating back to 2011.
Scouting the Michigan Wolverines (40-7 Overall, 16-0 Big Ten)
Michigan is 40-7 this season, and the Wolverines bring a nation-leading 22-game winning streak into this weekend’s series. Fueled by the win streak, Michigan is atop the Big Ten Conference standings with a perfect 16-0 record, four games ahead of second-place Nebraska. Overall, UM has won 21 consecutive Big Ten Conference games dating back to last year.
The Wolverines need only two victories this weekend to clinch their sixth consecutive Big Ten title. Michigan has not lost since a 3-2 setback to Virginia Tech on March 14, a loss the Wolverines followed with back-to-back wins over top-15 teams the next day. Michigan has outscored its opponents 208-62 during its winning streak, winning by an average of nearly seven runs per game.
Michigan is led by one of the nation’s top offenses. The Wolverines lead the country in scoring by averaging 7.6 runs per game, while ranking second with a .351 team batting average, 10th with a .547 slugging percentage and 17th with an average of 1.3 home runs per game. The Wolverines have been even better through their first 16 Big Ten Conference games, batting .413 as a team while averaging 10.3 runs per game and slugging 34 home runs. Overall, Michigan has scored 105 more runs this season than any other Big Ten team.
Individually, Sierra Romero is making her case as the nation’s top freshman. One of 25 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year, Romero is batting .411 this season with eight doubles, 21 home runs, 63 RBIs, a .925 slugging percentage and a .522 on-base percentage. After hitting two home runs and driving in five in a mid-week win over Central Michigan, Romero enters this weekend third nationally in home runs and RBIs per game and fifth in slugging percentage. She leads the Big Ten in runs (54), RBIs, home runs and total bases (135) and is second in walks (34) and slugging percentage. Romero is one of seven Wolverine starters hitting above .300. Caitlin Blanchard is batting .399 with eight doubles and 35 RBIs, while Ashley Lane is hitting .389 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs, including two homers and six RBIs on Tuesday against CMU. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Sierra Lawrence is batting .376 with eight doubles, six homers and 34 RBIs, while Kelsey Susalla has slugged five home runs and driven in 22 to complement a .348 batting average. Nicole Sappingfield is batting .344, while Amy Knapp is hitting .342 and Lyndsay Doyle is batting .312. Doyle has added 10 stolen bases, while Sara Driesenga has produced 34 RBIs and Lauren Sweet has hit five home runs and driven in 24.
Defensively, Michigan is allowing an average of 2.9 runs per game. The Wolverines enter this weekend ranked 35th nationally with a 2.10 ERA, but Michigan has committed 61 errors this season - including 20 by Romero at shortstop - leading to an average of nearly one unearned run per game. In the circle, the sophomore combination of Driesenga and Haylie Wagner have helped Michigan boast one of the Big Ten’s top pitching staffs. Driesenga is 23-5 on the year, ranking ninth nationally in wins. Driesenga has compiled a 1.68 ERA in 171.0 innings, striking out 75 and limiting opponents to a .226 batting average. Wagner, a lefty, missed the beginning of the year with an injury, but has returned to post a 16-1 record with a 1.92 ERA in 102.1 innings. She has thrown three shutouts among her six complete games. Stephanie Speierman (1-0, 4.20 ERA in 13.1 IP) and Alice Fitzpatrick (0-1, 6.83 ERA in 13.1 innings) round out the Wolverine staff.
Husker History vs. Michigan
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Michigan, 7-6. The teams are meeting as conference opponents for the first time this season. The Huskers have won four of the last five meetings, but the Wolverines won the last matchup in 2004, a year when the teams split a pair of early-season matchups. Both teams have been ranked in the top 25 in every meetings since 1997, a streak that totals eight consecutive ranked matchups including the three games this weekend. Each of the first 13 all-time meetings have been played at a neutral site, including a 1-0 Husker victory in an elimination game at the 2002 Women’s College World Series. Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 6-3 against Michigan and her good friend Head Coach Carol Hutchins.
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 29 extra-base hits, the eighth-highest total by a freshman class in school history.
- Nebraska has allowed one run or less in 23 of its 45 games this season, including 14 shutouts. In 55 games last season, NU allowed one run or less just 16 times, posting 13 shutouts.
- Nebraska had a series of streaks broken in Sunday’s loss at Purdue. In addition to snapping the Huskers’ five-game win streak and four-game road win streak, the loss marked Nebraska first loss this season when scoring first (26-1), first loss when scoring in the first inning (15-1) and first loss when scoring five-or-more runs (20-1).
- 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 11 home runs in their last eight games, including eight homers in the past four games. Before the recent surge, Nebraska had homered just five times in its previous 12 games.
- In the circle, 45 of the 116 hits Tatum Edwards has allowed this season have been infield singles (39 percent).
- Offensively, 16 of Tatum Edwards’ 25 hits have gone for extra bases, including seven doubles and nine homers.
- Gabby Banda is one double shy of cracking Nebraska’s all-time top 10.
- Banda has started 180 consecutive games for the Huskers.
- Banda’s 34 walks this season rank second the Big Ten and ninth in school history. She is six walks from tying the Nebraska record for walks in a season (40).
- Courtney Breault has hit three home runs in her last four games.
- Brooke Thomason owns 198 hits, needing two hits to become the seventh Husker with 200 career hits.
- The Edwards twins have homered in the same game nine times in their careers, including twice in 2013.
- Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle enters this weekend with 797 career victories, three shy of 800.
- Nebraska is 2-5 against ranked teams this season (1-3 vs. top-10 opponents), while Michigan is 5-4.
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 42 of Nebraska’s 45 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 .464, good for second in school history. Nebraska’s .294 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 45 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 47 home runs rank fourth in school history and could challenge the school record of 62 set in 1998. Nebraska has been hit by 31 pitches this spring, a total that ranks seventh in school history. The Huskers have drawn 178 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 45 games, an average of more than 2.5 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.
Husker Home Run Hitters
Junior Tatum Edwards hit a game-tying seventh-inning home run in game one of a doubleheader at Purdue last Saturday, marking her 30th career home run. Only six players in school history have slugged 30 career home runs, and Edwards was the third Husker to reach the mark this season, joining her twin sister Taylor and senior Brooke Thomason. Taylor ranks third in school history with 34 home runs, while Thomason is tied for fourth with 32 homers and Tatum ranks seventh with 30 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 produced two RBIs last Sunday at Purdue, giving her 47 RBIs this season, a total that ranks 30th 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 24th nationally among all active Division I players with her 152 career RBIs, a total that ranks third among all non-seniors.
Bettiol & Breault Boast B1G Weekends
Senior Courtney Breault and sophomore Jordan Bettiol both made the most of extended playing time last weekend in Nebraska’s three-game series at Purdue. Both players started all three games, with Breault starting three consecutive games for just the second time this season, and Bettiol earning three consecutive starts in the batting order for only the third time.
Bettiol hit safely in all three games, batting .667 (6-for-9) with a double, an RBI, four runs scored and two walks. She posted a .727 on-base percentage and .777 slugging percentage. Bettiol set a career high with three hits in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, while she also tied her career high in runs scored, doubles and walks in the series. Bettiol produced more hits (6-to-3), doubles (1-to-0) and walks (2-to-1) in the three-game series at Purdue than she had through her first 13 Big Ten Conference games combined, while matching her RBI total (1).
She continued her hot hitting with a 1-for-2 performance and a hit-by-pitch on Wednesday against Creighton.
Breault has started seven straight games as Nebraska’s designated player, producing six hits, three homers and 10 RBIs during that stretch. Breault went 4-for-12 (.333) last weekend at Purdue, and two of her three hits were home runs. Breault won game one of Saturday’s doubleheader with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. Then in game two, Breault slugged a home run to open Nebraska’s five-run seventh inning. Breault finished with a season-high three RBIs in game one of the doubleheader, before tying her career high with three hits in game two. Breault, a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2012, has come on strong in conference play this spring, batting .280 with two homers and eight RBIs in league play, after hitting .111 with one home run and one RBI in non-conference action.
She added her third home run in four games with a grand slam against Creighton on Wednesday.
Armstrong Improves Throughout Outstanding Freshman Year
Alicia Armstrong has put together an impressive freshman season and one key to her great year has been her continued improvement throughout the season. Armstrong is playing her best softball this month, leading to her move up the lineup, as she has batted leadoff for the past seven games.
Armstrong, who had an 11-game hitting streak snapped last Sunday, has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games. During that streak, she has gone 28-for-61 (.459) at the plate with five doubles, one home run and nine RBIs. She has also drawn 10 walks during the streak, posting a .535 on-base percentage to complement a .590 slugging percentage. Her hot streak has culminated with her move to the leadoff spot in the Husker lineup. In batting leadoff the past seven games, Armstrong has posted a .552 on-base percentage with a .480 batting average. She has scored six runs and driven in five out of the leadoff spot.
A native of Beatrice, Neb., Armstrong has taken her game to the next level during Big Ten Conference play. She has hit safely in 13 of Nebraska’s 16 conference games, while posting a .480 batting average. She leads the Huskers in average, runs (15) and hits (24) during conference play. Armstrong ranks second in the Big Ten in hits in conference-only games, fifth in batting average and ninth in runs scored and on-base percentage (.559).
Finally, Armstrong has also enjoyed a terrific month of April. She is batting .477 this month with a .614 slugging percentage and .521 on-base percentage. In the same amount of at bats, Armstrong has eclipsed her March totals by eight hits and two RBIs, while posting a .614 on-base percentage and a .521 on-base percentage.
High School Reunion at Bowlin Stadium
This weekend’s Big Ten Conference series between No. 16 Nebraska and No. 9 Michigan will serve as a high school reunion of sorts, with several former prep teammates facing off against each other. The most notable high reunion this weekend features Nebraska junior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards and Michigan freshman Sierra Romero. The trio all starred at Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, Calif., teaming up to lead the Broncos to a runner-up finish at the 2009 CIF Southern Section playoffs.
All three players were four-time All-CIF selections, while Tatum Edwards was the California Freshman of the Year in 2007 and Taylor Edwards was the state’s Junior of the Year in 2009. Taylor Edwards (2010) and Romero (2012) were both finalists for California Ms. Softball as a senior. Statistically, Taylor Edwards tied the Inland area record with 38 career home runs in her high school career, a record that stood for only two years before Romero broke the mark with 45 career home runs.
Another high school reunion this weekend features Nebraska freshman pitcher Emily Lockman and Michigan junior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield, both of whom attended Norco High School in Norco, Calif. Both players were first-team ESPN High School All-Americans as a senior, and both were members of Norco’s 2009 CIF Southern Section championship team. Lockman added another Southern Section championship as a senior in 2012, when she was named California’s Ms. Softball.