The Nebraska softball team takes its six-game winning streak on the road this weekend, as the Huskers open Big 12 Conference play with a two-game series against 19th-ranked Texas A&M at the Aggie Softball Complex on Saturday and Sunday.
The Huskers enter the Big 12 portion of their schedule with plenty of momentum. Nebraska has not only won six straight games, but the Huskers have won 13 of their last 14 games overall, including a 12-1 record this month. To extend the winning streak, NU will have to break a recent trend of slow starts to Big 12 play, as well as a six-game losing streak to the Aggies.
Nebraska has lost its last four conference openers, although each of those losses have come on the road and three of the Huskers’ opponents went on to win the Big 12 regular-season title. NU is 0-8 on the first weekend of league play over the past four seasons, as Nebraska last won a game in its first conference series in 2004, when the Huskers swept Oklahoma State en route to sweeping the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles.
As the Huskers look for a stronger start to conference play this season, fans can follow all of the action live from College Station. Huskers.com will offer a free radio broadcast of both games with veteran play-by-play voice Nate Rohr calling all of the action. Huskers.com will also offer a free live video stream of both games, courtesy of Texas A&M.
The Huskers and Aggies met three times last season, with Texas A&M winning all three contests. The final meeting came in the title game of the Big 12 Championship, when the Aggies completed a sweep of the league title and denied NU an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament with a 5-0 victory. Overall, Nebraska has lost six straight games to Texas A&M, marking NU’s longest losing streak to a conference opponent in the Big 12 era.
Nebraska has also lost six straight games in College Station, but three of those losses came in extra innings. The Huskers were shut out in a pair of 1-0 losses in their last trip to Texas A&M, but NU brings a more high-powered offense into this year’s matchup.
The Huskers rank third in the Big 12 with a .306 batting average and an average of 5.8 runs per game. In the circle, Nebraska is one of only four Big 12 teams with a staff ERA lower than 2.00. The Huskers have held 18 of their first 24 opponents to two runs or less.
Individually, sophomore Julie Brechtel and seniors Molly Hill and Haley Long have been the hottest Huskers. Brechtel, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week, has five multi-hit games in her last seven starts while batting .520 with eight RBIs. Long is hitting .530 over that same stretch, while Hill has not allowed a hit in her last 7.2 innings. Hill has also given up just two earned runs over her last 26.0 innings.
Scouting the 19th-Ranked Texas A&M Aggies (22-10)
Texas A&M is the defending Big 12 regular-season and tournament champion, as the Aggies defeated Nebraska 5-0 in the title game of the 2008 Big 12 Championship. The Aggies, who went on to finish as the national runner-up at last year’s Women’s College World Series, are off to a 22-10 start this season heading into the opening weekend of Big 12 play. Under the direction of Head Coach Jo Evans, the Aggies are currently ranked 19th in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll.
Offensively, Texas A&M is averaging better than five runs per game while hitting .289 and slugging 22 home runs. Three starters are hitting above .300, led by Natalie Villarreal. Villarreal is hitting .398 on the season and is tied for the team lead with eight doubles. Holly Ridley ranks second on the team with a .333 average, but she has been the Aggies’ top power threat. Ridley has homered seven times and produced 23 RBIs while adding a Big 12-best three triples. Ridley is also one of seven Aggies who have drawn at least 11 walks this season, as Texas A&M is averaging nearly four walks per game.
In the circle, Texas A&M uses a two-pitcher rotation, although a total of four Aggies have pitched this season. A&M has one of the youngest staffs in the conference led by a sophomore and a freshman, both of whom have never pitched against Nebraska. Sophomore Rhiannon Kilesing is 13-6 on the season with a 1.82 ERA. She has thrown a team-high 138.2 innings, striking out 123 while tossing four shutouts. Freshman Rebecca Arbino, a teammate of several Huskers with the Corona Angels program, is 9-4 in her rookie year with a 2.09 ERA. Arbino has worked 80.1 innings and limited opponents to a .235 average and only seven extra-base hits. Alex Reynolds (0-0, 7.00 ERA in 1.0 inning) and Savana Lloyd (0-0, 10.50 ERA in 2.2 innings) have also seen time in the circle for Texas A&M.
Husker History vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M has had more recent success against Nebraska than any other Big 12 program. The Aggies have won six straight in the series which marks the Huskers’ longest losing streak to a conference opponent in the history of the Big 12 Conference (1996-present). The Aggies have won eight of the last nine meetings overall and Nebraska has dropped six straight in College Station, including four one-run losses and three in extra innings. Overall, the Aggies lead the all-time series, 31-22, including a 14-9 edge on their home field.
Last year, the teams met twice in the regular season and also played for the Big 12 tournament title with Texas A&M winning all three meetings. Megan Gibson, the first player ever to be named both the Big 12 Pitcher and Player of the Year in the same season, won all three decisions, including a pair of shutouts. The Aggies took the first meeting in Lincoln by a score of 6-0, before Nebraska fought back to lose a closer 6-3 decision in the second game. The teams then met in the postseason with an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament on the line and Gibson stymied the Husker offense as Texas A&M claimed its first-ever Big 12 tournament title with a 5-0 win.
Nebraska’s last trip to College Station was not a pleasant one, as the Huskers ended up on the wrong end of a pair of 1-0 decisions to the fourth-ranked Aggies. Nebraska out-hit Texas A&M 8-5 in the two games, as Molly Hill took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of the first game but lost on the only hit she allowed.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers open Big 12 play with a weekend series at 19th-ranked Texas A&M:
Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,376 games at the Division I level.
NU is 389-229 (.628) all-time in the month of March, including a 12-1 mark this season. The Huskers’ best March record came in 2002 when NU went 19-1.
The Huskers are 148-77 (.667) all-time in Big 12 Conference play, ranking second in conference victories.
Nebraska is undefeated on Saturday this season (6-0). Nebraska is also unbeaten on the road (3-0) and undefeated when the game is carried by the Husker Sports Network (12-0).
The Huskers have hit 17 home runs this season after homering only 15 times in 2008 and 14 times in 2007.
Six Huskers have hit more than one home run this season, the highest total at NU since 2003.
Nebraska is averaging an extra-base hit every 12.7 at bats and an RBI every 5.6 at bats this season. Last year, the Huskers averaged an extra-base hit every 19.1 at bats and an RBI every 8.6 at bats.
NU has not homered in its last four games, marking the Huskers’ longest drought without a homer. Last season, Nebraska went 17 games between home runs and the 2007 squad went 12 games without a homer.
Crystal Carwile is the Big 12 active leader with 11 career home runs in conference-games only.
Seven starters in the Husker lineup are hitting above .300.
The Huskers have held 18 of their first 24 opponents to two runs or less.
Molly Hill hasn’t allowed a hit in 7.1 innings. The hitless streak is the second-longest of her career and her longest streak of 10.2 hitless innings ended in the eighth inning of a loss at Texas A&M in 2007.
Molly Hill has enjoyed terrific run support this season. In her 13 starts, Nebraska has averaged 6.2 runs per game. In 2008, Hill received 3.7 runs of support and Nebraska scored only 2.5 runs per game for Hill in 2007.
Nebraska is 39-of-46 in stolen bases this season, a success rate of 85 percent. The Huskers had been successful on 24 consecutive stolen base attempts prior to Haley Long being thrown out in Nebraska’s last game. Overall, the Huskers have been successful on 25 of their last 26 attempts.
NU has been hurt by two-out runs in its losses. In three of NU’s five losses, every run has scored with two outs.
So far this season, 20 of the 53 runs Nebraska has allowed (38 percent) have scored on home runs.
Nebraska in Big 12 Conference Openers
Nebraska is 7-6 all-time in Big 12 Conference opening games, including a 4-6 mark on the road. The Huskers have not won a league opener since 2004, which is also the last time NU claimed a conference championship. NU has been swept in each of the last four years on the opening weekend of league play, dropping two games each at 12th-ranked Texas A&M in 2005, at No. 3 Texas in 2006, at 17th-ranked Baylor in 2007 and at Texas last season. Three of those four teams went on to win the Big 12 regular-season title.
While the league opener is only one game, history shows that the first conference game of the season could provide a glimpse of how Nebraska will finish in the final league standings. When winning their first Big 12 game, the Huskers have never finished lower than fourth and have gone on to win three league titles, while winning an average of 13 games. When Nebraska has lost its conference opener, the Huskers have only finished higher than fourth once (second in 2006) while winning an average of only nine games.
Mullin Ties School Record
Senior Meghan Mullin tied a school record in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with South Dakota, as she became only the second Husker in program history to walk four times in a game. Mullin walked in each of her four plate appearances, coaxing a four-pitch walk twice while walking on 3-2 counts in her other two plate appearances. The only other player in school history to walk four times in a game was Sheena Lawrick on Feb. 19, 2005, against Texas-San Antonio.
Walk This Way
Nebraska drew 10 walks in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with South Dakota, marking the Huskers’ first game with 10-or-more walks since posting 13 walks against Pacific on May 16, 2003. The 10 walks were a season high and marked the fifth time in 24 games this season that Nebraska had drawn more than five walks in a game. In 2007 and 2008, the Huskers combined to record only four games with six-or-more walks in a total of 110 games. NU has also coaxed at least eight walks three times this season, matching their combined total from the past five seasons (2004-08), which covered a stretch of 287 games.
Already this season, four Huskers have set career highs for walks in a season while five players have exceeded their walk total from all of last season. Leading the way is senior Meghan Mullin. Mullin tied the school record with four walks in her last game, while she has drawn 13 walks this season, bettering her previous career high of 12 in 2007. Entering the year, Mullin had walked just 25 times in her first three seasons.
Overall, Nebraska has drawn 88 walks this season. The Huskers’ average one walk every 8.6 plate appearances this season, while NU’s average of 3.7 walks per game ranks second in the Big 12 Conference. The Huskers have also been hit by 24 pitches this season, which already ranks as the sixth-highest total in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball. The walks and hit-by-pitches have helped Nebraska post a .408 on-base percentage that ranks second in the Big 12. In a full season, no Husker team has ever posted an on-base percentage above .382.
Brechtel Posts Big Weekend to Earn Big Player-of-the-Week Honors
Sophomore Julie Brechtel hit .583 at the prestigious Judi Garman Classic last weekend in her hometown of Fullerton, Calif. Brechtel also finished with seven RBIs and five runs scored in five games at the tournament. For her efforts, Brechtel was named the Big 12 Player of the Week, the first weekly honor of her career.
Playing in the 17-team tournament that featured nine ranked teams, four top-10 squads and three of the top six teams in the Big 12 Conference standings, Brechtel’s totals ranked among the tournament’s best. Brechtel led all hitters in the tournament in batting average and on-base percentage, while ranking second in RBIs.
In addition to the cumulative totals, Brechtel set single-game career highs for runs, RBIs, home runs and stolen bases during the tournament. Brechtel finished the event with seven hits in her final eight at bats, while reaching base safely in nine of her final 10 plate appearances. Behind her play, Nebraska posted a 4-1 record at the classic, which tied for the tournament’s best record.
Brechtel was especially good in Nebraska’s two games against ranked teams, as she combined to go 3-for-4 with two runs scored, two RBIs, a hit-by-pitch and a stolen base against then-16th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette and then-No. 6 Arizona State. Brechtel produced the game-winning RBI in the Huskers’ upset of the Ragin’ Cajuns and set a new career high in runs scored in a loss to the defending national champion Sun Devils.
Brechtel closed the tournament in style against Penn State. She hit a grand slam in her first at bat - the first by a Husker in nearly two seasons - and finished 2-for-2 with a walk and a career-high four RBIs. Through four games this week, Brechtel has picked up where she left off by going 6-for-14 with three doubles and three RBIs. Overall, she has hit safely in seven of her last eight games, including five multi-hit efforts. Brechtel also tied her career high with three hits against North Dakota State in game two of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
Hill Dominates at Judi Garman Classic
Senior right-hander Molly Hill earned the decision in each of Nebraska’s five games at the Judi Garman Classic last weekend. She posted a 4-1 record at the event to lead the Huskers to a tie for the best finish among the tournament’s 17 teams, a notable accomplishment in a field that included nine ranked teams.
Hill led all pitchers in the elite tournament with four wins and her 0.94 ERA ranked third in the tournament behind a pair of All-Americans (minimum 15.0 innings pitched). Hill entered the weekend with only one shutout on the season, but she recorded two shutouts at the Judi Garman Classic and nearly picked up a third.
Hill’s first start came against 16th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette, when she pitched Nebraska to a 2-0 upset victory. In addition to the shutout, Hill struck out a season-high nine batters, which also marked a season high in strikeouts for ULL. In her next complete game, Hill tossed another shutout while striking out seven and walking none against New Mexico. Her final start was spoiled by a solo homer that served as the only run she allowed in the Huskers’ 10-1 five-inning victory over a Penn State squad that had scored 22 runs in its previous two games against then-No. 3 Washington and then-No. 12 Arizona.
On the weekend, Hill established season highs in starts for innings pitched, strikeouts, fewest walks allowed, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed and fewest hits allowed. She struck out 21 in 22.1 innings while allowing only three earned runs. She stretched her season-high scoreless innings streak to 15.2 through the first two games of the tournament and closed the event allowing only one earned run over her final 12.1 innings.
Hill carried over her success into Tuesday’s doubleheader with North Dakota State, when she earned two victories. She tossed a career-high 9.0 innings in the first game, allowing one run on five hits. Hill then came on in relief in game two and did not allow a hit in her 5.0 innings to earn the victory. On the day, Hill allowed only one run in 14.0 innings while allowing just two balls to leave the infield. Hill has currently not allowed a hit in 7.2 innings while going 10.2 innings without giving up a run.
Sophomores Julie Brechtel and Heidi Foland are doing their part to make an impact on a senior-laden Husker lineup this season. Brechtel and Foland are the only underclassmen starters in a Nebraska batting order that has featured at least four seniors in each of the first 24 games and as many as six.
While Brechtel and Foland may be the youngest of the Huskers’ everyday hitters, the duo has combined to produce impressive results this season. The classmates rank 1-2 on the team in slugging percentage, while Brechtel leads the Huskers in average and on-base percentage and Foland leads NU in triples, home runs, RBIs and total bases. Brechtel also ranks second in doubles, while Foland ranks second in stolen bases.
At the midpoint of the 2009 season, both players have shown tremendous improvement from their freshmen campaigns. Brechtel has already matched or exceeded her 2008 total in runs, doubles, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases, while her average is currently up .162 points, her slugging percentage .330 and her on-base percentage .131. Foland has set career highs in runs scored, homers and RBIs while improving her average .013, her slugging percentage .263 and her on-base percentage .035.
Huskers Comfortable on the Road
Nebraska is 3-0 on the road this season, thanks in large part to an offense that has averaged more than seven runs per game. The Huskers have struggled offensively on the road the past two seasons, combining to hit just .210 while averaging only 2.4 runs per game. Through three road games this season, Nebraska is hitting .356 and averaging 7.3 runs per contest.
The Huskers’ 3-0 road record comes on the heels of a 1-11 road record last season. NU also finished with a losing road record in 2007 (5-9) after posting at least a .500 road record every season from 1995 to 2006.
Long On Hot Streak as She Heads Home
Senior Haley Long returns to her home state this weekend and the timing could not be better for the Brenham, Texas, native. Although she is somewhat hampered by an arm injury, Long is still enjoying her most productive stretch of the season offensively.
Long has nine hits in her last 17 at bats and has three multi-hit games since last Friday. Over the past two weekends, Long’s average is up more than .200 as she has two more hits in 11 fewer at bats. Her power numbers have dipped slightly, as the injury has limited Long to more controlled swings and even some slaps.
Nebraska Passes 2008 Home Run Total
Nebraska has hit 17 home runs this season despite not homering in its last four games, its longest drought of the season. The Huskers have already hit more homers through 24 games this season than they did all of last season when NU hit 15 homers in 53 games. Nebraska also surpassed the home run total of 14 from the 2007 season, giving the Huskers their most home runs over the past three seasons.
Last season, senior Crystal Carwile accounted for 12 of Nebraska’s 15 home runs as only three other players homered and each hit only one roundtripper. Already this season, six Huskers have hit at least two home runs, including three who hit their first career home run. Overall, seniors Amanda Duran (2 home runs), Haley Long (2) and Brittany Pascale (3), along with sophomores Julie Brechtel (2) and Heidi Foland (5) have all hit more home runs this season than any other season in their career.
Eight is Enough
The Huskers have scored at least nine runs 10 times through the first 24 games this season. That more than doubles Nebraska’s total from the last two seasons combined, as NU scored nine-or-more runs just twice in 53 games last season and only twice in 57 games in 2007.