The Nebraska softball team makes it annual trip to Columbus, Ga., this weekend to compete in the 14th annual NFCA Leadoff Classic. The Huskers are making their 13th straight appearance in the 21-team tournament, which features 11 ranked teams and four more teams who are receiving votes in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll.
With more than two-thirds of the field comprised of ranked teams or teams receiving votes in the poll, it’s no surprise that Nebraska will face a tough schedule at the South Commons Complex, which served as the host site for softball at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The Huskers open their weekend schedule on Friday against 22nd-ranked Massachusetts, who is 6-4 this season, including a 2-3 record against current top-10 teams.
Nebraska then faces Penn State from the Big Ten Conference, before facing a surprising Long Island squad that went 3-2 at the Cathedral City Classic, which included victories over Cal State Fullerton and then-No. 12 Northwestern, both of whom defeated Nebraska at the tournament.
Next up for the Huskers is an 11-1 South Carolina team that has won nine straight and is receiving votes in this week’s NFCA poll.
Nebraska (6-3) has lost two straight heading into the NFCA Leadoff Classic, as the Huskers lost their final two games last weekend to 18th-ranked Northwestern and No. 3 Washington. NU finished with a 2-3 record at the Cathedral City Classic, but the Huskers were just a few plays away from finishing with a 4-1 mark.
The Huskers opened the tournament with a 9-1 run-rule victory over UNLV that marked Nebraska’s third run-rule victory over its first five games. NU’s season-opening five-game win streak was then snapped in a 4-2 loss to Cal State Fullerton. The Huskers led the Titans 2-0 in the sixth inning, but a two-out three-run homer powered Fullerton to the victory.
Nebraska held on to a late lead the next day, as seniors Crystal Carwile and Molly Hill led the Huskers to a 3-1 victory over Pac-10 foe Oregon. Hill tossed a four-hitter and retired the final 10 batters she faced, while Carwile went 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and two RBIs.
The Huskers then faced their first ranked team of the season against then-No. 12 Northwestern. Sophomore Heidi Foland gave Nebraska a 3-0 lead by belting her third three-run homer of the season and the Huskers led 3-1 heading into the sixth inning. NU could not hold the lead however, as defensive miscues led to four unearned runs, all with two outs. The Huskers then closed the tournament with a loss to undefeated Washington, which moved up to No. 3 in this week’s rankings.
Another frustrating statistic for the Huskers last weekend was two-out runs. Of the 15 runs Nebraska allowed in its losses last weekend, 11 scored when the Huskers were only one out away from ending the inning.
Nebraska figures to be in close games again this weekend, and the Huskers are hoping the lessons learned last week will help them hold on to their leads this weekend.
Scouting the UMass Minutewomen (6-4)
UMass is off to a solid start to the season as the Minutewomen enter the NFCA Leadoff Classic with a No. 22 national ranking. UMass has posted a 6-4 record this season against a strong schedule. The Minutewomen own victories over No. 8 Arizona State and No. 6 Michigan, while three of their losses have come to top-10 teams (No. 4 UCLA, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 9 Tennessee).
UMass is averaging more than four runs per game while batting .259 as a team. Michelle Libby has started eight games and leads the team with a .500 average, a .700 slugging percentage, a .565 on-base percentage and two stolen bases. Samantha Salato has provided the power, as she has slugged three home runs and produced eight RBIs to go along with her .276 average.
In the circle, UMass boasts one of the top pitchers in the nation in senior Brandice Balschmiter. Balschmiter is 5-2 this season with a 1.91 ERA. Four of her victories have been shutouts, including a two-hit blanking of defending national champion Arizona State in her last start. Four of her seven starts have come against top-10 teams. Balschmiter has been the Minutewomen’s workhorse, but Sara Plourde (0-0, 2.33 ERA in 6.0 innings) and Bailey Sanders (1-2, 3.29 ERA in 17.0 innings) have also seen time in the circle.
Nebraska and UMass have met only three times in softball, with the Huskers owning a 2-1 series lead. The last meeting came at the 2005 NFCA Leadoff Classic, when Nebraska earned a 3-1 victory.
Scouting the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-4)
Penn State had last weekend off and the Nittany Lions take a 4-4 record into the NFCA Leadoff Classic. PSU has lost two straight, but both setbacks came to ranked teams in No. 11 Cal and No. 16 North Carolina. The Nittany Lions also have a one-run loss to defending national champion Arizona State.
Penn State is batting .284 as a team, but the Nittany Lions have just nine extra base hits through their first eight games. PSU is led offensively and defensively by freshman sensation Lisa Akamine. At the plate, Akamine leads the team with a .414 average, five runs scored, three doubles, one home run and seven RBIs.
In the circle, Akamine is 3-1 with a 0.64 ERA. In 22.0 innings, she has allowed just four runs while striking out 23 and walking only two. Overall, Penn State boasts a 1.08 team ERA. Jackie Hill boasts a solid 1.27 ERA, but she is just 1-3 on the season. Kimi Wong (0-0, 3.00 ERA in 2.1 innings) has also worked in the circle for PSU.
The all-time series between Nebraska and Penn State is tied at 2-2. The Nittany Lions twice defeated Nebraska at the 2005 Kia Klassic in the teams’ most recent meetings.
Scouting the Long Island Blackbirds (5-5)
Long Island is off to a 5-5 start this season against a tough schedule. Three of the Blackbirds’ five losses have come to ranked teams, while a fourth came in a one-run setback to a Texas team receiving votes. LIU and Nebraska shared four common opponents at last weekend’s Cathedral City Classic. NU defeated UNLV and lost to Washington, Northwestern and Cal State Fullerton, while Long Island posted a 3-1 record against those same teams.
The Blackbirds are hitting just .246 as a team, while averaging 3.5 runs per game. Bianca Mejia is batting .485 and has slugged five doubles and three home runs. Her .909 slugging percentage leads the team, as do her nine RBIs. Mariesha Marker ranks behind Mejia with a .400 average while leading the team with four stolen bases.
In the circle, Long Island boasts a staff ERA of 3.03. Blaire Porter has appeared in each of the Blackbirds’ 10 games, including making six starts and tossing five complete games. She is 3-4 on the season with a 3.47 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. Jenny Giles has also seen action, compiling a 2-1 record and a 4.87 ERA in 20.1 innings. Opponents are batting .289 against Long Island and the Blackbird defense has committed 16 errors this season leading to 10 unearned runs.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Long Island, 2-0, winning by scores of 8-3 in both 2001 and 2002.
Scouting the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-1)
South Carolina has won nine in a row heading into the NFCA Leadoff Classic en route to opening the season with an 11-1 record. The Gamecocks’ lone loss came in a one-run defeat at College of Charleston, while South Carolina owns a 3-2 nine-inning victory over Kansas, who was ranked 25th at the time of the game.
South Carolina is averaging nearly four runs per game, while batting .254 as a team with four home runs. Three Gamecocks are hitting above .300, led by Ashton Payne’s .333 average. Payne also leads the team with three doubles and two triples. Evan Childs is batting just .216 this season, but she paces South Carolina with three home runs, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored.
The Gamecocks have been stout defensively this season. South Carolina boasts an ERA of 1.02 and a fielding percentage of .971. Audrey Broyles has been the Gamecocks’ top pitcher, as she is 5-1 on the year with a 0.80 ERA in 44.0 innings. Opponents are batting just .199 against her and she has struck out 52. Kierstyn White has been nearly as good, compiling a 5-0 record with a 1.00 ERA in 28.0 innings. Krystle Robinson rounds out the staff with a 1-0 record and a 1.65 ERA in 17.0 innings.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with South Carolina by a 9-4 margin. The Huskers have won three of the last four meetings, all of which were run-rule victories. In the most recent meeting in 2003, Nebraska won 9-1 in five.
Nebraska History at the NFCA Leadoff Classic
Nebraska is making its 13th consecutive appearance in Columbus, Ga., for the 14th annual NFCA Leadoff Classic. Run by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, the event annually features some of the nation’s top teams. Among the field of 21 teams this season are 11 ranked teams and four more teams receiving votes.
The Huskers have several ties to the NFCA, most notably head coach Rhonda Revelle who has served on several committees in addition to two separate stints as NFCA president totaling five years. Nebraska has a 34-23 all-time record at the Leadoff Classic. The Huskers have played 31 of their 58 games against ranked opponents, facing at
least one top-25 team every year with the exception of a rain-shortened 2006 event. NU has posted at least a .500 record at the event in six of the last seven years, including perfect records in 2003 and 2006.
Overall, before the format switch last season, Nebraska claimed the gold bracket championship in 2002, while officially finishing as the runner-up in 1998 and in 2006. The Huskers finished 3-2 at the 2008 NFCA Leadoff Classic. The first day of the tournament was especially meaningful, as NU defeated Tennessee Tech 11-1 to give Coach Revelle her 600th victory at Nebraska. The Huskers then handed 16th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette its first loss of the season as the two victories snapped a five-game losing streak for Nebraska.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers travel to the NFCA Leadoff Classic
Nebraska is 118-67 (.638) all-time in the month of February, including a 109-63 (.634) 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 13 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 388 career games at Nebraska, while the infield has combined to start 569 contests. In the circle, NU’s five-pitcher staff has combined to start 200 Division I games and pitch 1,325.1 innings, including 115 starts and 740.2 innings at Nebraska. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,226 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.
Nebraska has scored at least one run in the first inning in six of its first nine games this season, posting a 5-1 record when doing so.
Of the 17 runs the Huskers allowed last week, 12 scored with two outs. On the season, 62 percent of the runs Nebraska has allowed have scored with two outs in the inning.
Carwile Posts Solid Numbers in Return to Action
Senior Crystal Carwile returned to the field last weekend after missing three straight games with an injury. Carwile suffered the injury in the Huskers’ season-opening victory over Dayton, but the Chino, Calif., native started all five games at the Cathedral City Classic last weekend.
Carwile enjoyed an excellent weekend despite not being 100 percent. She hit a team-best .412 at the tournament, slugging one double and one home run to post a .647 slugging percentage. Carwile also drove in four runs and scored once. She was especially good against Oregon, when she went 3-for-4 with a homer and a pair of RBIs to lead the Huskers to their first win over a Pac-10 team since March of 2007.
Huskers Off to a Fast Start
Despite a disappointing finish to the Cathedral City Classic on Sunday when Nebraska lost a late lead to No. 16 Northwestern and was shut out by third-ranked Washington, the Huskers are still off to one of the better starts under Head Coach Rhonda Revelle.
Nebraska is 6-3 this season and with a win over No. 22 UMass on Friday, the Huskers would have seven wins in their first 10 games for the sixth time in Revelle’s 17 seasons in Lincoln. NU has already assured itself of a winning record over the first 10 games for the first time since the 2006 squad began the year 9-1.
Hill Starting Senior Season Strong
Senior Molly Hill appears to have returned to her pre-injury form this season. Hill posted a school-record .800 winning percentage as a freshman in 2006 and won the Big 12 ERA Championship with a mark of 1.05 as a sophomore in 2007. Big things were expected of Hill in 2008 as she was one of 50 players nationally named to the preseason USA Softball Player of the Year watch list. But Hill underwent knee surgery just prior to the start of the season and was forced to make a quick return after not pitching for a month. She finished the season with a 15-17 record and a 3.27 ERA, a mark that was 1.86 higher than her career ERA entering the year.
Hill is off to a much better start this season, as she is currently 4-1 with one save and a 0.80 ERA. Her lone loss came to then-No. 12 Northwestern, although she did not allow an earned run against the Wildcats. Hill currently ranks fourth in the Big 12 in ERA, and she has not allowed an earned run in her last 12.1 innings.
Big Red Posting Big Innings
Nebraska has been prone to producing big innings through the first nine games. The Huskers have scored at least five runs in an inning four times this season, with each of those big innings coming during the first five games of the year. In 53 games last season, Nebraska had a total of only four innings when it scored five or more runs and the first big inning didn’t come until the eighth game of the season.
Learning to Finish
Nebraska is off to a strong start this season with a 6-3 record. The start could be even better had the Huskers not let a pair of late leads slip away in two of their three losses.
The Huskers have been great through the first five innings this season, outscoring their opponents 42-9, including a whopping 19-1 in the fourth inning. But over the final two innings, Nebraska has been outscored 12-10, including 10-1 in its three losses.
In a loss to Cal State Fullerton, the Huskers entered the sixth inning ahead by two before the Titans scored three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh. Two games later against then-No. 12 Northwestern, Nebraska took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning, only to see the Wildcats rally to score four unearned runs in their final at bat. That same day against No. 3 Washington, the Huskies scored two insurance runs in the sixth inning to post a 6-0 victory.
Overall, the Huskers have been outscored 11-3 in the sixth inning this season. The sixth inning has not been kind to Nebraska over the past three seasons. Last year, the Huskers were outscored by 13 in the sixth inning, their worst margin of any inning. In 2007, NU outscored its opponents in every inning except the sixth, when the Huskers were outscored 28-15.