The Nebraska softball team travels south to the Sunflower State this weekend for a pair of games against North Dakota and Wichita State at the Shocker Invitational in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday and Sunday.

The Huskers will play North Dakota at 11 a.m. on both days, before facing host Wichita State at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Each game from the Shocker Invitational will feature a free live audio broadcast on Huskers.com, courtesy of the Husker Sports Network. Softball play-by-play veteran Nate Rohr will call all of the action this weekend.

NU enters play this weekend with a solid 7-4 record against a schedule that has included three games against teams currently ranked in the top 20 of the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll. Three of Nebraska’s four losses have come to ranked teams, while the Huskers have lost two games where they led by at least two runs with five outs to go.

Those two losses have kept Nebraska’s record from being even better, but there is good news for the Big Red. In the eight games where they haven’t run-ruled their opponent, the Huskers have led in the sixth inning in six of those contests, while trailing by only one in another. That comes as a stark contrast from last season, when the Huskers enjoyed a sixth-inning lead just twice the entire month of February. When it didn’t lead, NU trailed by at least two runs in the sixth inning of every game, with the exception of a five-inning loss to national champion Arizona State.

Nebraska, which has faced five 2008 NCAA Tournament teams in its past six games, plays Division I newcomer North Dakota on Saturday morning. The Huskers and Fighting Sioux have already met once this season and are scheduled to meet four more times in 2009, including this weekend’s two matchups.

In the first meeting this year, freshman right-hander Ashley Hagemann dominated the North Dakota lineup in her career debut. Hagemann tossed a one-hitter in the Huskers’ 11-1 victory on Feb. 7 in UND’s first-ever Division I game. Hagemann took a perfect game into the fifth inning and struck out 19, which is believed to be a Nebraska record for a seven-inning game.

After a rematch with North Dakota, the Huskers will play their second road game this season. Nebraska defeated Northern Iowa 2-1 in Cedar Falls on the final day of the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic. With a win over Wichita State, Nebraska will exceed last year’s total of one road victory.

For the Huskers to have a successful weekend, the offense will need to break out of a mini-slump. Nebraska is only hitting .238 over the past two weekends, while averaging just over three runs per game.

Seniors Amanda Duran (.350), Crystal Carwile (.333) and Darcy Rutherford (.318) are the only Huskers hitting above .230 over the past two tournaments.

Scouting the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (1-4)
In its first year of transition to the Division I level, North Dakota has played just five games this season, including one contest against the Huskers. Nebraska defeated North Dakota 11-1 in the Fighting Sioux’s first-ever NCAA Division I game as part of the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic. Since that tournament the opening weekend of February, UND has played just once, as Saturday’s matchup with Nebraska will mark the Fighting Sioux’s second game in 26 days.

North Dakota boasts a powerful offense that is averaging nearly five runs per game despite a .242 average. The Fighting Sioux have slugged four home runs in only five games. Hannah-Rose Peters leads the squad with a .467 average and two doubles. Maggie O’Neal is batting .357 and is the only other Fighting Sioux hitting above .300.

In the circle, Erica Younan has thrown more innings than the rest of the staff combined. Younan is 1-1 on the season with an 8.47 ERA. She has appeared in each of North Dakota’s five games, starting three and tossing the Fighting Sioux’s only complete game. Younan has struck out 19 and walked 25 in 20.2 innings, while opponents are batting .333 against her. No other UND pitcher has thrown more than 4.2 innings. Ashlie Allison has earned two starts, but she is 0-2 on the year. Allison has only thrown 3.2 innings in her starts, compiling a 15.26 ERA. Rose-Peters is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in 4.2 innings, while Karli Fisher (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 0.1 innings) and Shelly Wolf (0-0, 2.62 ERA in 2.2 innings) have also seen action in the circle.

Husker History vs. North Dakota
The Huskers and Fighting Sioux have met just twice on the softball diamond, including once in 2009 in one of five scheduled games between the two programs this season. The first meeting this year was an 11-1 Nebraska victory in the Huskers’ second game of the year and North Dakota’s season opener.

The story of the game was freshman right-hander Ashley Hagemann, who tossed a complete-game one-hitter and struck out 19, which is believed to be a Nebraska record for a seven-inning game. Hagemann struck out 10 straight batters at one point and was perfect through 4.2 innings. Her only blemish was a sixth-inning solo home run she allowed to Abby Rehberger. Hagemann earned Big 12 co-Pitcher-of-the-Week honors for her effort.

Offensively, Nebraska tied its season high by scoring 11 runs against the Fighting Sioux. The Huskers scored runs in four innings, including four runs in the fourth and five in the seventh. NU drew nine walks in the game and eight Huskers had a hit or scored a run. Sophomore Heidi Foland led the way by finishing 2-for-3 with an RBI. Foland slugged a career-high two doubles and scored a career-high three times. Senior Amanda Duran was a perfect 2-for-2 against the Fighting Sioux while hitting her first career home run as a Husker. Junior Alex Hupp and senior Darcy Rutherford also had two hits apiece, with Rutherford setting a career-high with two RBIs.

Ashlie Allison earned the start for the Fighting Sioux and allowed four runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings. Erica Younan relieved her and was charged with seven runs (five earned) over the final 3.2 innings.

Nebraska leads the overall series, 2-0. Prior to this season, the only meeting between the schools came on April 7, 1978, in Lincoln, when the Huskers posted a 12-0 five-inning victory.

Scouting the Wichita State Shockers (7-8)
Wichita State is 7-8 on the season heading into a Wednesday home matchup with the Oklahoma State Cowgirls. The Shockers and Huskers share three common opponents this season in Oregon, Penn State and South Dakota State. Nebraska posted a 3-0 record against that trio, while Wichita State defeated Oregon and South Dakota State, but lost to Penn State.

Wichita State boasts solid offensive numbers. The Shockers are hitting .312, as they will be the first Husker opponent this season to enter a game with a higher batting average than NU. WSU has also slugged 10 home runs while posting a .446 slugging percentage and averaging 5.5 runs per game. Five starters are hitting above .300, led by Kara L’Huillier. L’Huillier leads the team with a .444 average, 13 runs, seven doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs, an .800 slugging percentage and a .519 on-base percentage. Heather Gerritse is close behind with a .405 average, 10 RBIs and a team-high nine walks.

In the circle, a three-pitcher Wichita State staff has compiled a 4.71 ERA while allowing more than five runs per game. Brianna Smet and Kasha Kolb have been the Shockers’ main two pitchers. Kolb has seen the most action, starting nine games and appearing in 12 of Wichita State’s 13 games. Kolb boasts a 5-6 record with a 4.17 ERA in 50.1 innings. Opponents are hitting just .251 against her, but have slugged 14 home runs. Smet is 2-2 on the year with a 3.63 ERA in 36.2 innings. Opponents are batting .383 against her, but 11 of the 30 runs she has surrendered have been unearned. Jamie Hull (0-0, 11.59 ERA in 9.2 innings) rounds out the Shocker staff.

Husker History vs. Wichita State
Nebraska and Wichita State will be meeting this weekend for the first time since 2007. The Huskers have won seven in a row in the series dating back to 1999, including four straight in Wichita. Head Coach Rhonda Revelle lost four of her first five games to Wichita State, but she has since won 13 of the past 14 meetings. Overall, Revelle is 14-5 against the Shockers, including a 6-5 mark in Wichita.

In the most recent meeting in 2007, Nebraska posted a 4-1 victory behind Ashley DeBuhr. DeBuhr struck out 13 Shockers in earning the victory, as she tossed a two-hitter and did not issue a single walk. Crystal Carwile powered the offense, finishing 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs.

Nebraska leads the all-time series 28-13, including a 26-11 mark in the NCAA era (1982-present). The Huskers are 13-10 all-time in Wichita, including winning four straight dating back to 1999 and five of the last six overall.

Duran Excels at NFCA Leadoff Classic
Senior Amanda Duran did her part to carry Nebraska’s offense at the rain-shortened NFCA Leadoff Classic last weekend. Duran went 5-for-6 at the plate and finished the tournament with hits in her final four at bats, while reaching base safely in each of her final five plate appearances.

Duran opened the tournament with a 2-for-3 effort against No. 22 UMass and ace Brandice Balschmiter. The two hits were an impressive total considering Balschmiter allowed just three combined hits in shutouts against No. 8 Arizona State and No. 13 DePaul in her starts before and after facing Nebraska.

A native of Tucson, Ariz., Duran added another multi-hit game against Penn State and Lisa Akamine, who entered the game as the Big Ten Conference ERA leader. The Nittany Lions entered the game having allowed just eight earned runs over their first four games and Duran produced three earned runs by herself as Nebraska scored the most runs Penn State has allowed this season.

Duran was a big reason why, as she scored twice and drove in a pair of runs. Duran singled and scored in the second to tie the game at 1-1. She then broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Huskers the lead for good with a leadoff home run in the fifth inning, her second of the season. Duran then helped Nebraska seal the game by delivering a key two-out single in the sixth inning that scored two key insurance runs to stretch a one-run lead into a 5-2 advantage.

Against Penn State, Duran tied her career highs with three hits, two runs scored, two RBIs and one home run. On the weekend, Duran hit .833. Duran had a total of five hits in six at bats, while the rest of the Husker lineup had just six hits in 41 at bats.

Mackin Makes Husker Debut
Junior Robin Mackin made her much-anticipated Nebraska debut last weekend at the rain-shortened NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. Mackin pinch-hit against 22nd-ranked UMass in the Huskers’ first game and made her first start in the lineup in the tournament finale against Penn State.

Against the Nittany Lions, Mackin also saw her first action in the circle. Pitching at less than 100 percent, Mackin was on a limited pitch count. She came on in relief and tossed two hitless innings, although she did struggle with her control as she walked five and struck out only one.

Mackin’s two innings against Penn State marked the first pitches she had thrown at the collegiate level since she allowed one run in 2.1 innings against 16th-ranked Stanford on May 18, 2007, in an NCAA Tournament start.

Quick Hitters
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers travel to Wichita State for the Shocker Invitational.

  • Nebraska is 377-228 (.623) all-time in the month of March. March was the Huskers’ best full month last season, as the Huskers posted an 11-10 record in the month, with four losses coming to ranked teams and five more coming to teams that had received votes in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll at some point before facing the Huskers.
  • Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. The Huskers’ outfield has combined to start 394 career games at Nebraska, while the infield has combined to start 579 contests. In the circle, NU’s five-pitcher staff has combined to start 202 Division I games and pitch 1,338.1 innings, including 117 starts and 753.2 innings at Nebraska. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,246 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 been hurt by two-out runs this season. On the season, 17 of the 26 runs Nebraska has allowed (65 percent) have scored with two outs. The percentage is even greater in the Huskers’ four losses. In three of NU’s four losses, every run has scored with two outs while overall, 14 of the 18 runs Nebraska has allowed in its losses (78 percent) have scored with two outs in the inning.
  • The Huskers have shown more power at the plate this season and it has shown in the statistics. Nebraska has hit 16 doubles through the first 11 games of the season. In 2008, the Huskers didn’t hit their 18th double until the 17th game of the season. Home runs have seen an even more dramatic increase, as the Huskers have hit eight long balls in 11 games. Last year, Nebraska didn’t hit its eighth homer until the 38th game of the year.
  • So far this season as a team, Nebraska is averaging an extra-base hit every 11.4 at bats and an RBI every 5.8 at bats. Last year, the Huskers averaged an extra-base hit every 19.1 at bats and an RBI every 8.6 at bats.
  • Nebraska has also shown much more consistency defensively with a returning infield. The Huskers have only committed seven errors in 11 games. Nebraska has committed more than one error in a game just once through the first 11 games this season. Last year, the Huskers had five games with two or more errors through the first 11 games of the season, including one game with three errors and one with five.

Huskers Look for Continued Success in Wichita
Nebraska has fared well at Wichita State over the past several seasons. The Huskers have won 11 straight games in Wichita, including perfect 5-0 marks at the 2005 and 2007 Shocker Invitationals. During the 11-game winning streak, Nebraska has defeated Minnesota (twice), Texas Tech, UMKC, Valparaiso, Western Illinois (twice) and Wichita State (four times).

The Huskers have been especially good in Wichita State-hosted tournaments. In winning the 2005 Shocker Invitational, the Huskers posted two run-rule victories while outscoring their opponents 32-3. That included two road victories against a Wichita State team that made the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 years and finished runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Against a more balanced field at the 2007 Shocker Invitational, Nebraska picked up five victories by a combined score of 22-9. That tournament included another road victory over Wichita State, as well as two wins over Big Ten foe Minnesota.

Rutherford Liking Leadoff Spot
Senior Darcy Rutherford has acclimated herself well to the leadoff spot, as she has hit first in all 11 games this season. Rutherford currently leads the team with a .382 average, 11 runs scored, two sacrifices and three stolen bases. The fast start comes on the heels of a career 2008 season, when Rutherford hit .325 and scored 26 runs.

One of the more impressive categories where Rutherford has improved from last season is in her power game. Rutherford has already tied her career high with two doubles this season, giving the Huskers a potent threat at the top of the order. She is currently slugging .441 after entering the year with a career slugging percentage of .335.

Rutherford has also been driving in runs as the leadoff batter. She leads the team with three-game winning RBIs this season, while she has produced five RBIs total after entering the year with just 12 RBIs in her first three seasons combined.

What a Difference a Year Makes
With one month of the season in the books, a comparison between February of 2008 and February of 2009 shows just how far Nebraska has come in one year. Entering March last season, the Huskers were just 3-6 overall. This year, Nebraska finished 7-4 in February, despite losing three of its final four games in the month, all to ranked teams.

The strides the Huskers have made offensively and defensively are even more noticeable. At the plate, Nebraska’s average is .044 higher this year than it was last year. The Huskers are also averaging 1.6 more runs per game, while their slugging percentage has increased a remarkable .127.

In the circle, Nebraska is allowing 2.3 fewer runs per game this season than it was after one month last year. It should be noted that ace Molly Hill was only able to pitch once in February last season due to an injury and Hill has been healthy for all of 2009. On the flipside, All-American transfer Robin Mackin has only been able to pitch two innings thus far in 2009 due to injury.

While the Huskers are allowing far fewer runs per game, they are also picking up nearly two additional strikeouts per contest. NU has also walked 0.5 fewer batters per game, despite walking 10 batters in its last game. Opponents are hitting .069 points lower against Nebraska this season, while the 2009 Husker defense committed just seven errors in 11 February games after committing 12 errors in nine games last February.

Huskers Add Second Game With Northern Iowa
After having two games rained out last weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, the Huskers have altered their schedule to add another game. Nebraska and Northern Iowa will now play a doubleheader on Wednesday, April 22 beginning at 3 p.m. The teams were originally scheduled to play only a single game beginning at 5 p.m.

With the addition of the extra game with Northern Iowa on April 22, the Huskers are now scheduled to play 52 games in the regular season. The 2009 season marks the first year of a new NCAA policy that limits the number of regular-season games a team can play to 56 games.