The Nebraska softball team looks to continue its strong start to the 2009 season this weekend when the Huskers face a challenging schedule at the Cathedral City Classic.

The 32-team tournament in Cathedral City, Calif., is played at the Big League Dreams complex, which features softball diamonds designed to look like scaled-down replicas of famous baseball stadiums such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. The unique setting will mark Nebraska’s first outdoor games of the season.

The Huskers opened their 34th season of play with four games inside the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Feb. 7 and 8. The indoor venue was kind to the Big Red, as Nebraska outscored its four opponents by a combined 34-4 margin. After a 4-0 opening weekend, the Huskers are off to their best start to a season since 2003 and are undefeated heading into the second weekend of play for just the third time in Head Coach Rhonda Revelle’s 17 seasons.

The longest season-opening winning streak in school history is eight games, as both the 1995 and 2003 Huskers opened the season 8-0. This year’s Nebraska squad has a chance to tie or break that mark this weekend, but it will not be an easy feat for the Huskers.

Nebraska opens play on Friday at 5:30 p.m. (Central) against a 5-4 UNLV squad that split a pair of games with the Huskers in 2008. NU then closes the tournament with four consecutive games against teams that qualified for the 2008 NCAA Tournament in Cal State Fullerton, Oregon, Northwestern and Washington. Sunday’s schedule is particularly difficult, as the Huskers face No. 12 Northwestern and seventh-ranked Washington in back-to-back games.

Tough opponents are not the only challenges NU will face this weekend, as several key players are dealing with injuries. The Huskers may be without the services of Crystal Carwile this weekend, as the senior’s status is uncertain after injuring her knee in Nebraska’s 10-0 five-inning win over Dayton in the season opener. Carwile has been the Huskers’ top hitter the past three seasons, leading NU in home runs and RBIs every year while earning three All-Big 12 awards.

Nebraska may also be without sophomore Ashley Guile and junior Robin Mackin. Both players missed the Huskers’ season-opening tournament, but could see action this weekend. Guile started 51 games as a freshman in 2008, while Mackin has yet to make her Nebraska debut. She was a 2007 All-American hurler at Fresno State, but has not pitched collegiately since, as she missed the 2008 season while training with Team Canada for the Beijing Olympics.

If neither Carwile, Guile nor Mackin are available for action, the Huskers will be without their No. 3 and 4 hitters from last season and their expected ace in the circle, who was one of 50 players named to the USA Softball Preseason Player of the Year watch list.

Fortunately for Nebraska, the Huskers boast depth among their 21-player roster, the largest under Revelle. NU hit .426 at the UNI-Dome Classic and averaged more than eight runs per game without Carwile or Guile. In the circle, NU posted a 1.12 ERA and struck out 47 batters in 25.0 innings without Mackin.

Scouting the UNLV Rebels (5-4)
UNLV will play its first game away from home on Friday when the 5-4 Rebels take on the Huskers. UNLV has lost three of its last four games, but one of those losses was a 9-7 setback to No. 4 UCLA.

Offensively, the Rebels are averaging nearly seven runs per game, a total that would have been even higher had UNLV not been held to one run over its final two games last weekend. Brittany Bolinger paces the squad with a .407 average, while five other starters are hitting above .300. Alyssia De La Torre ranks second with a .393 average while leading the Rebels with four home runs and 13 RBIs.

In the circle, Traci Odegard has seen the most action. She has been hit-or-miss, as she is 2-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 21.0 innings. Odegard has tossed shutouts in both of her wins, while she has allowed 10 earned runs in her two losses. Jessica O’Connor has also seen extensive action, tossing 19.0 innings and compiling a 3-1 record with a 3.32 ERA. Amber Peterson (0-1, 5.88 ERA in 8.1 innings), Stephanie Bregante (0-0, 12.35 ERA in 5.2 innings) and Kara Bendt (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 2.0 innings) round out the staff.

Nebraska leads the all-time series with UNLV, 9-3. The Huskers had won five straight in the series prior to splitting two games with the Rebels last season. Nebraska won the first meeting last year, 10-2 in six innings, before UNLV won the second contest, 5-1.

Scouting the Cal State Fullerton Titans (3-3)
Cal State Fullerton is 3-3 on the year, but the Titans have lost two in a row, including a 7-2 setback to No. 13 Northwestern. Overall, Cal State Fullerton has played five of its six games against BCS teams.

Offensively, the Titans are hitting just .236, but eight home runs have helped the team average four runs per game. Frances Gonzalez and Courtney Martinez have been the Titans’ most productive hitters. Gonzalez is batting .529, while Martinez is hitting .471. No other Fullerton starter is hitting above .240. Gonzalez also has three home runs on the season, while Martinez leads the team with four homers, seven RBIs and a 1.353 slugging percentage.

In the circle, Krystal Heinle has thrown 23.0 innings for the Titans, posting a perfect 3-0 record with a 2.43 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .236 against her, but she has issued more walks (17) than strikeouts (11). Overall, Cal State Fullerton has walked 26 as a team while striking out just 18. Katey Laban (0-2, 7.70 ERA in 10.0 innings) and Ari Cervantes (0-1, 2.33 ERA in 6.0 innings) round out the staff.

The all-time series between Cal State Fullerton and Nebraska is tied at 7-7. The Huskers have won four straight in the series dating back to 2002, including an 8-0 five-inning win the last time the teams squared off in 2005.

Scouting the Oregon Ducks (5-5)
Oregon is 5-5 this season, as the Ducks have started slow and finished strong in each of their first two tournaments. Oregon lost its first two games of the season before closing its first tournament with three straight wins. The Ducks then lost three straight to open play last weekend at the UNLV Desert Classic, before rebounding to win two in a row, including a 14-0 rout of Southern Mississippi.

Offensively, four Ducks are hitting better than .400 while another four are hitting better than .300. Kelsey Chambers leads Oregon with a .458 average, four doubles and 12 RBIs. Neena Bryant is close behind with a .455 average and a team-high 10 stolen bases, while Monique Fuiava has belted six home runs in 10 games to go along with a .367 average and a team-high 13 runs scored.

In the circle, Oregon has used a total of four pitchers, but Sam Skillingstad and Brittany Rumfelt have been the Ducks’ top hurlers. Skillingstad has earned six starts, posting a 5-1 record with a staff-low 1.93 ERA. In 36.1 innings, Skillingstad has struck out 41 and allowed only 25 hits. Rumfelt, a left-hander, is 0-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 20.0 innings of work. Melissa Rice (0-1, 9.00 ERA in 4.2 innings) and Mikayla Endicott (0-0, 9.69 ERA in 4.1 innings) round out the Duck staff.

Nebraska leads the all-time series with Oregon, 5-3. The Huskers have won all three meetings this decade, including a 7-0 victory over the Ducks in the last meeting in 2001.

Scouting the Northwestern Wildcats (6-3)
No. 12 Northwestern enters the Cathedral City Classic on a three-game winning streak with a 6-3 overall record. The Wildcats’ three losses have all come to ranked teams in UCLA, Kansas and Nevada. Overall, Northwestern has played four ranked teams in its first nine games, as the Wildcats own a 3-1 win over No. 11 Arizona.

Offensively, Northwestern boasts a powerful lineup. The Wildcats are averaging nearly seven runs per game while averaging two home runs per contest. All-American Tammy Williams leads the offense with a .467 average, as she is one of five starters hitting .300 or better. Erin Dyer has been the top power hitter, as she leads the team with five home runs, 15 RBIs and an .897 slugging percentage. Overall, the Wildcats are hitting .317 as a team with a .586 slugging percentage.

In the circle, Lauren Delaney is the Wildcats’ workhorse. Delaney has started seven of Northwestern’s nine games, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.71 ERA. A powerful pitcher, opponents are hitting just .166 against her, while Delaney has struck out 63 in only 51.2 innings. Kelly Dyer is the only other pitcher to see action this year, as she is 1-0 with a 7.00 ERA in 11.0 innings.

Northwestern leads the all-time series with the Huskers, 6-4. The Wildcats have won five straight in the series, including an 8-6 victory last season, when Northwestern overcame a 6-4 sixth-inning deficit.

Scouting the Washington Huskies (9-0)
The Washington Huskies are off to a perfect start to the 2009 season. The seventh-ranked Huskies won four games at the Campbell Cartier Classic last weekend, posting a pair of run-rule victories while outscoring their opponents by a combined 38-4 margin.

Offensively, Washington is hitting .333 as a team while averaging more than seven runs per game. Ashley Charters leads the way with a .458 average and she is one of three Huskies who have produced seven RBIs this season. Charters also boasts 11 runs, eight walks and six stolen bases, all team highs. Ashlyn Watson is hitting .344 and leads the team with three home runs and a 1.056 slugging percentage.

In the circle, the Huskies are led by All-American Danielle Lawrie, who pitched for Team Canada in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she played under NU Associate Head Coach Lori Sippel and was a teammate of Husker junior Robin Mackin. Lawrie is 6-0 on the year with a 0.35 ERA. She has struck out 64 in 40.1 innings, while opponents are hitting just .096 against her and have only drawn five walks. Felecia Harris (3-0, 1.50 ERA in 14.0 innings) and Jena Clifton (0-0, 2.62 ERA in 2.2 innings) have also seen action in the circle for the Huskies.

Washington leads the all-time series with Nebraska, 5-3. The Huskies, who were sent to Lincoln for NCAA Regional play in 2003, 2005 and 2007, defeated the Huskers 7-6 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, marking the last times the teams have met.

Quick Hitters
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers travel to the Cathedral City Classic:

  • The trip to Cathedral City marks the Huskers’ longest road trip of the season, as roundtrip the journey will cover 2,832 miles. The trip will also mark a homecoming for Nebraska’s four Southern California natives.
  • Nebraska’s 4-0 record marks its best start to a season since the 2003 Huskers opened the season with eight straight wins.
  • Nebraska is 116-64 (.644) all-time in the month of February, including a 107-61 (.637) record under Coach Revelle. Revelle has posted a winning month of February 11 times in 15 seasons (NU did not play a game in February of 1993, Revelle’s first season). Prior to Revelle’s arrival, the Huskers had played only 12 all-time games in the month (9-3 record).
  • Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. The Huskers’ outfield has combined to start 373 career games at Nebraska, while the infield has combined to start 544 contests. In the circle, NU’s five-pitcher staff has combined to start 195 Division I games and pitch 1,294.1 innings, including 110 starts and 709.2 innings at Nebraska. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,176 games at the Division I level.
  • A Husker freshman (Heidi Foland) won the final 2008 Big 12 Player-of-the-Week award, while current freshman Ashley Hagemann was a co-recipient of the first Big 12 Pitcher-of-the-Week award in 2009. Prior to these two awards, no Husker freshman had been named player of the week or pitcher of the week since 2001.

Huskers Go on the Offensive
A new-look Husker offense under the direction of first-year hitting coach Diane Miller opened to rave reviews two weeks ago at the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic. Nebraska averaged more than eight runs per game while batting a robust .426 in four games at the tournament. The Huskers added 12 doubles and five home runs to post a .693 slugging percentage to go along with a .546 on-base percentage.

Below are some offensive highlights from the Huskers’ season-opening tournament:

  • Nebraska scored 10 or more runs in three straight games for only the second time in the 34-year history of the program.
  • After its first three games at the UNI-Dome Classic, NU had already exceeded its 2008 season total by producing three games with 10 or more runs, compared with just two a season ago.
  • The Huskers’ 34 runs at the UNI-Dome Classic marked their highest run total after one weekend of play since the 1995 Huskers produced 45 runs in six games.
  • In only four games at the UNI-Dome Classic, Nebraska equaled or exceeded 16 team and individual game highs from last season’s 53-game schedule.
  • Nebraska had six doubles against North Dakota, marking the first time NU had slugged at least six doubles in a game since 1996.
  • The Huskers sent at least 10 batters to the plate in two of their first 16 innings at bat this season. In 2008, Nebraska sent 10 or more batters to the plate just twice in 347 innings.
  • The UNI-Dome Classic saw sophomore Heidi Foland produce Nebraska’s first multi-homer game since 2006.
  • Overall, four Huskers hit a home run at the tournament. Last year, only four players homered all season.
  • Ten Huskers combined to set 30 individual career highs in hits, runs scored, RBIs, doubles, home runs and walks at the UNI-Dome Classic.
  • The Huskers also showed patience at the plate, drawing 23 walks in only 23.1 innings.
  • After only posting two games with eight or more walks over the last five seasons, Nebraska drew nine walks against South Dakota State and eight versus Northern Iowa in back-to-back games.
  • Sophomore Heidi Foland totaled six RBIs against South Dakota State, one shy of the school record.
  • Senior Crystal Carwile homered in her first at bat of the season, becoming the first Husker to do so since Amber Burgess in 2000.

Big Red Already Bettering 2008 Top Marks
In only four games at the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic, the Huskers quickly matched or bettered their offensive season highs from a year ago. In 2008, Nebraska’s high for runs scored in a game was 11, but the Huskers scored 11 runs in two of their first three games of the 2009 season. In all, Nebraska has already eclipsed its 2008 season high in all team categories except at bats, triples, sacrifices and hit-by-pitches.

Huskers Hurlers Face Challenging Weekend
The Nebraska pitching staff, which currently leads the Big 12 with a 1.12 ERA, is in for a challenge this weekend against some high-powered offenses. The Huskers’ five opponents at the Cathedral City Classic have combined to score 267 runs in 43 games, an average of more than six runs per game. UNLV, Oregon, Northwestern and Washington have each totaled more than 10 runs in a game twice this season.

The cumulative offensive totals of this weekend’s five opponents is a .309 average with 54 doubles, 60 home runs and 231 RBIs. If you take Cal State Fullerton out of the equation, Nebraska’s other four opponents have combined to post a .320 average, 52 doubles, 52 home runs and 209 RBIs.

Dominant Debut
Husker freshman Ashley Hagemann was dominant in her collegiate pitching debut against North Dakota on Feb. 7. Against the Fighting Sioux, Hagemann struck out 19 – including 10 in a row at one point – during a complete-game, one-hit performance. The 19 strikeouts are believed to be a Nebraska record for a seven-inning game and were just three shy of the overall school record of 22 strikeouts, which came in a 12-inning contest.

Hagemann followed that performance by striking out five in four innings of work against host Northern Iowa, pitching Nebraska to its first road victory since March of last year. On the weekend, Hagemann averaged more than 15 strikeouts per seven innings while only 14 of the 41 batters she faced were able to put the ball in play.

For her efforts in the opening weekend, Hagemann shared Big 12 Pitcher-of-the-Week honors with Baylor freshman Whitney Canion. Hagemann is the first Husker pitcher honored with a weekly award from the conference since Ashley DeBuhr on April 17, 2007. Hagemann also joined former All-American Peaches James as the only Husker freshmen to win the pitching award.

Winning Debuts
Freshman right-hander Ashley Hagemann earned a victory in her first career start against North Dakota on Feb. 7. With the win, Hagemann became the fifth straight Husker pitcher to be victorious in her first career decision, joining teammates Molly Hill, Alex Hupp and Tori Tyson, along with former Husker Jordan Keen.

Overall, seven of Nebraska’s last eight pitchers won their first career decision (and start), with the lone exception being three-time All-Big 12 hurler Ashley DeBuhr, who surrendered four late runs in a 6-4 loss to Notre Dame in 2004. Prior to DeBuhr, the last Husker to lose her first career decision (and start) was Penny Cope in 2000, although Cope was a junior college transfer. The last freshman to lose her first career decision prior to DeBuhr was Lori Tschannen in 1998.

Early Season Big 12 Leaders
Nebraska currently sits atop of the Big 12 statistical rankings in several categories, including average, ERA and fielding percentage. Although the rankings may mean little at this point in the season, it is still a sign of improvement considering where the Huskers finished in the final 2008 rankings.

Below are Nebraska’s current team rankings in select categories compared to the Huskers’ final rankings last season (note: NU’s four games are the second-fewest total of any school in the Big 12):

Category

2008 Ranking (total)

Current Ranking (total)

Batting Average

6th (.270)

1st (.426)

On-Base %

7th (.343)

1st (.546)

Fielding %

8th (.958)

1st (.989)

Slugging %

t-9th (.350)

1st (.693)

ERA

10th (3.47)

1st (1.12)

Runs Per Game

10th (3.6)

1st (8.5)

Doubles

10th (48)

t-3rd (12)

Home Runs

10th (15)

t-4th (5)

Runs Scored

10th (190)

t-4th (34)

Foland Puts on Power Show
Sophomore Heidi Foland finished the Huskers’ season-opening UNI-Dome Classic with team-high totals of three doubles, two home runs and four RBIs. A native of Grand Island, Neb., Foland has recorded five extra-base hits in her last eight at bats after finishing with five total extra-base hits in 115 at bats last year.

Foland began her power surge with consecutive doubles against North Dakota on Feb. 7, marking her first career game with two doubles. Foland then hit her first career home run against South Dakota State on Feb. 8 and followed it with another home run in her next at bat. Both homers were three-run shots, as she produced a career-high six RBIs, one shy of the Nebraska record. Her two home runs marked the first multi-homer game by a Husker since senior Crystal Carwile produced a pair of two-home run games as a freshman in 2006.

Foland currently ranks first in the Big 12 in slugging percentage (1.364), home runs per game (0.50) and doubles per game (0.75), second in batting average (.545) and third in RBIs per game (1.75)

Running Past the Competition
Nebraska posted run-rule victories over two of its first three opponents, defeating Dayton 10-0 in five innings and South Dakota State 11-2 in six. The Huskers have already won as many run-rule victories this season as they did all of 2008.

Rutherford Driving in Runs
Senior Darcy Rutherford produced four RBIs while batting in the leadoff spot at the UNI-Dome Classic. The four RBIs come after Rutherford had just 12 total RBIs through her first three seasons at Nebraska. Two of her RBIs scored the game-winning run, as the Omaha native has now produced more game-winning RBIs this season than she had in the rest of her career combined.

Carwile Out of the Lineup
Senior Crystal Carwile, the Huskers’ most decorated and experienced hitter, has missed Nebraska’s last three games with a knee injury. The Chino, Calif., native injured her knee in Nebraska’s season opener against Dayton. Carwile is 1-for-2 at the plate this season with a home run, but her availability for this weekend’s Cathedral City Classic is not yet known.

Promising Returns
Senior Amanda Duran and sophomore Crystal Gonzalez each came back from previous season-ending injuries and made their return to the diamond at the Huskers’ season-opening UNI-Dome Classic. Duran missed the final 20 games of the 2008 season, her first at Nebraska, with a hand injury. She returned to the lineup in a big way at the UNI-Dome Classic, batting .444 with a double, a home run and three RBIs. Gonzalez saw the field for the first time since March 28, 2007, following a pair of knee surgeries. She was limited to pinch-hitting and pinch-running duties, but scored once and drew one walk in two plate appearances.

Although she did not return from a season-ending injury, senior Brittany Pascale was healthy for the Huskers’ season-opening tournament following an injury-plagued 2008 season that limited her to only 39 at bats. Pascale fared well at the UNI-Dome Classic, matching Duran by batting .444 with a double, a home run and three RBIs.