After opening Big 12 Conference play with a two-game split at 19th-ranked Texas A&M last weekend, the Nebraska softball team returns home to host a pair of non-conference doubleheaders this week at Bowlin Stadium. The Huskers host South Dakota State for two games on Tuesday, before welcoming the Drake Bulldogs to town on Wednesday.

First pitch for both days is scheduled for 3 p.m. and tickets are available at the ticket office behind home plate on the day of the game, online at Huskers.com or over the phone by calling 1-800-8-BIG-RED. Fans unable to make it out to the ballpark can follow all of the action on Huskers.com, as veteran play-by-play voice Nate Rohr will call all of the action for the Husker Sports Network.

Nebraska opened the home portion of its schedule last week with doubleheader sweeps of North Dakota State and South Dakota. The four wins wrapped up a six-game winning streak for the Huskers, which marked the third time this season NU had posted at least five straight wins. Overall, Nebraska has won 14 of its last 16 games, with both losses coming to top-20 teams and two wins coming over ranked foes. The Huskers are 13-2 this month.

Leading the way during the Huskers’ recent surge has been the play of sophomore second baseman Julie Brechtel and senior right-hander Molly Hill. In leading Nebraska to a 14-2 record over its last 16 games, Brechtel has hit .447 (17-for-38) while producing three doubles, her first two career home runs and 13 RBIs. She also committed only one error over that stretch while posting a team-best .684 slugging percentage and .553 on-base percentage.

The hot streak has pushed Brechtel to the top of the team in several statistical categories, including average (.373), slugging percentage (.559) and on-base percentage (.479). She also ranks second on the team with five doubles and fourth with 14 RBIs.

While Brechtel has excelled at the plate, Hill has been downright dominant in the circle. Hill has earned the decision in 11 of the Huskers’ past 16 games, posting a 9-2 record with a 1.09 ERA. She has tossed six complete games in her last nine starts while collecting a pair of shutouts and one save. Opponents have managed only 45 hits against her in her last 64.1 innings for a paltry .193 average.

Hill is currently 13-4 on the season with a 1.13 ERA. She ranks second in the Big 12 Conference in ERA, second in wins and tied for first in saves. In league-games only, Hill handed 19th-ranked Texas A&M its first home conference loss in nearly two seasons, while posting a 0.47 ERA and allowing opponents to hit just .167 against her. For her efforts, she was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week on Monday, the second award of her career.

Behind Brechtel and Hill, Nebraska is off to one of the best starts in school history. The Huskers are 20-6 after Sunday’s win at No. 16 Texas A&M. It took NU only 26 games to record its 20th victory, making the 2009 squad the second-fastest to 20 wins in Husker history.

Scouting the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (6-20)
South Dakota State enters Tuesday’s doubleheader with a 6-20 overall record. The Jackrabbits have won three straight following an eight-game losing streak. Nebraska and SDSU have already met once this season, when sophomore Heidi Foland hit the first two home runs of her career to power the Huskers to an 11-2 six-inning victory.

The Jacks are only averaging 2.5 runs per game this season while giving up 7.3 runs per game. SDSU is hitting .250 as a team, led by Ashley Durazo. Durazo is hitting a team-best .416, while also pacing the Jackrabbits with 10 runs, six doubles and 13 RBIs. Krystal Higgerson and Stacey Evans have each hit two home runs for South Dakota State, while five other players have homered once.

In the circle, Pam Nicholson and Elkhorn, Neb., native Jenna Marston have seen the majority of the action. Nicholson is 3-5 on the season and leads the team with a 5.22 ERA in 61.2 innings. Marston has started 14 of the Jacks’ 26 games, posting a 2-12 record with a 7.07 ERA. She has thrown a team-high 67.1 innings and posted a team-best 42 strikeouts, but opponents are batting .393 against her. Chelsey Evans (1-3, 5.47 ERA in 24.1 innings) rounds out the staff.

Nebraska leads the all-time series with South Dakota State, 10-0. The Huskers are also a perfect 46-0 all-time against members of the Summit League and 24-0 all-time against the four Division I Dakota schools.

Scouting the Drake Bulldogs (18-12)
Drake enters Wednesday’s doubleheader riding a season high four-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are 18-12 overall. Nebraska and Drake share three common opponents this season in New Mexico, Northern Iowa and UNLV. The Huskers are a perfect 3-0 against those teams, while Drake is 1-4.

Drake is led by a solid pitching staff that has posted a 3.23 ERA while holding opponents to a .241 average. Jenna DeLong leads the staff with a 2.27 ERA in a team-high 92.2 innings. DeLong has struck out 97 while posting a 9-5 record. Brynne Dordel has been the Bulldogs’ No. 2 pitcher, going 8-5 with a 3.37 ERA in 89.1 innings. Mandy Osborn (1-2, 6.76 ERA in 19.2 innings) and Stefanie Clayton (0-0, 99.00 ERA in 0.0 innings) round out the Drake staff.

Offensively, Drake is batting .243 while averaging four runs per game. Elena Leon leads the team in nearly every category. Her .357 average is tops on the team, as are her 29 runs, eight doubles, one triple, seven homers, 19 RBIs, 23 walks, .738 slugging percentage, .514 on-base percentage and nine steals.

Nebraska leads the all-time series with Drake, 29-6. The Huskers have won 10 straight in the series dating back to 1998, including a doubleheader sweep at Bowlin Stadium in 2007.

Quick Hitters
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers host South Dakota State and Drake in a pair of mid-week doubleheaders at Bowlin Stadium:

  • Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,396 games at the Division I level.
  • NU is 390-230 (.629) all-time in the month of March, including a 13-2 mark this season. The Huskers’ best March record came in 2002 when NU went 19-1.
  • It took Nebraska only 26 games to record its 20th victory. Last season, the Huskers didn’t pick up their 20th win until the 45th game of the season.
  • The only other teams in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball to reach the 20-win mark in 26 games or fewer were the 2002 Huskers (25 games) and the 2006 Huskers (26 games).
  • 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 13.5 at bats and an RBI every 5.9 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 six 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.
  • Five starters in the Husker lineup are hitting above .300.
  • Three Huskers have already posted double-digit walk totals this year, with two more players sitting on nine walks. Last year, a total of three Huskers drew 10-or-more walks in 53 games.
  • The Huskers have held 20 of their first 26 opponents to two runs or less.
  • Molly Hill has enjoyed terrific run support this season. In her 15 starts, Nebraska has averaged 5.6 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 40-of-47 in stolen bases this season, a success rate of 85 percent. Overall, the Huskers have been successful on 26 of their last 27 attempts.
  • NU has been hurt by two-out runs in its losses. In four of NU’s six losses, every run has scored with two outs.
  • So far this season, 20 of the 56 runs Nebraska has allowed (36 percent) have scored on home runs.

A Win Two Years in the Making
Nebraska’s thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind, nine-inning victory at Texas A&M on Sunday was two years in the making. The win was the Huskers’ first Big 12 road victory since 2007, NU’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2007, Nebraska’s first victory over a ranked Big 12 team since 2007, NU’s first Big 12 extra-inning victory since 2007 and the Huskers’ first win when trailing after six innings of play since 2007. The win also snapped an eight-game losing streak to Texas A&M dating back to 2006.

Going further back, the Huskers’ rally gave Nebraska its first victory in the opening series of Big 12 play since 2004. The Huskers went 0-2 on the opening weekend of conference play in each of the past four seasons, while being shut out five times in eight games.

History on Mullin’s Side This Week
Senior Meghan Mullin has a history of success against South Dakota State and Drake. In her 11 career games against the two schools, Mullin has posted a .750 average (12-for-16) with an .840 on-base percentage, six runs scored, five stolen bases and seven walks.

Mullin is 11-for-14 (.786) in eight career games against South Dakota State. She has also drawn five walks and been hit by one pitch to post an .850 slugging percentage while adding five stolen bases and six runs scored. In three career games against Drake, Mullin has posted a .500 average (1-for-2) while drawing three walks and laying down three sacrifices.

Walk This Way
Nebraska drew 10 walks in the second game of last 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 26 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 its 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, who tied the school record with four walks in a single game last week. She has drawn 16 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 94 walks this season. The Huskers’ average one walk every 8.7 plate appearances this season, while NU’s average of 3.6 walks per game ranks third in the Big 12 Conference. The Huskers have also been hit by 27 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 .398 on-base percentage. In a full season, no Husker team has ever posted an on-base percentage above .382.