The Nebraska softball team begins a challenging four-game road trip this weekend in Norman, Okla., when the Huskers square off against the 12th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday and Sunday at the OU Softball Complex.
The annual series between the Huskers and Sooners once again pits the two winningest Big 12 programs against each other. Oklahoma is 183-58 (.760) all-time in Big 12 Conference play, as the Sooners own the most wins and the best winning percentage of any team in the league. Nebraska ranks second in both categories, as the Huskers are 150-79 (.667) all-time in league play since the Big 12 was formed in 1996. Each school has won six Big 12 titles, including three regular-season championships and three postseason crowns each.
Oklahoma was the preseason pick to win the conference this season and the Sooners are currently in fourth place in the Big 12 standings with a 5-3 record, although their five wins are tied for the highest total in the league. Nebraska is right behind in a tie for fifth place with a 2-2 mark in league play. The Huskers were picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll and NU’s 2-2 start to conference play is its best since the 2004 Big 12 champion team opened 4-0.
Fans can follow all of the action from this weekend’s showdown series on Huskers.com. Nate Rohr will call all of the action for the Husker Sports Network and his broadcast will be available for free on Huskers.com. HuskersNSide subscribers can also watch both games live, courtesy of Oklahoma.
Nebraska will be looking for better results this weekend than it had the last time the Huskers visited Norman in 2007. That season, NU led in both games of the series but the fourth-ranked Sooners rallied for the sweep. In game one, Nebraska led 9-6 in the seventh inning before OU rallied for four runs, including a walk-off, two-out, two-run home run. In game two, the Huskers led 1-0 early before allowing four unearned runs in a 5-1 loss.
The Sooners made it four straight wins over the Huskers with a regular-season sweep again last season. OU came into Bowlin Stadium and swept NU in a doubleheader by a combined score of 17-1 in late March. The Huskers showed how much improvement they made when the teams met again in May at the Big 12 Championship, as NU held off a late rally to defeat the 12th-ranked Sooners 6-5.
Nebraska has continued the momentum from its strong finish last year to this season. The 2009 Huskers are 28-5 on the season, which ties for the third-best 33-game record in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball. Of the other five teams that won at least 28 of their first 33 games, four went on to the Women’s College World Series.
Scouting the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners (28-11, 5-3 Big 12)
The 12th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners enter this weekend’s series with a 28-11 overall record and a 5-3 mark in Big 12 Conference play. The Sooners, who have already played a league-high eight conference games, snapped a three-game losing streak by winning the second game of a home doubleheader with Baylor on Wednesday. OU dropped the first game of the doubleheader 5-0, before rebounding for a 4-0 win in game two. Oklahoma and Nebraska share seven common opponents this season outside of the Big 12. The Sooners went 6-2 against those seven teams, while the Huskers were just 2-5.
Oklahoma is led by one of the most potent offenses in the nation. The Sooners are hitting .300 on the season while averaging 6.1 runs per game and nearly one home run per game. Leading the way is Amber Flores, who was named one of 25 national finalists for the USA Softball Player-of-the-Year award on Tuesday. Flores is currently on pace to win the Big 12 triple crown, as she leads the league with a .430 average, 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. She also leads the conference with a .601 on-base percentage and an .840 slugging percentage. Flores is not the only big bat in the Sooner lineup, as Samantha Rickets is batting .333 this season, while leading the league with 13 doubles and ranking second to Flores with 40 RBIs. Ricketts has also hit five home runs, while Katie Norris and Lindsey Vandever have each hit six homers.
In the circle, returning All-American D.J. Mathis has been slowed by an injury, but she is coming off a six-hit shutout against Baylor on Wednesday. Mathis is 9-3 this season with a 3.12 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .206 against her and she has struck out 73 in 67.1 innings. Behind Mathis are a pair of freshmen who share the same surname despite not being related. Allee Allen has been the Sooners’ top statistical pitcher, as she is 12-2 and has compiled a team-low 2.52 ERA in a team-high 89.0 innings. Kirsten Allen has also been solid in her rookie season, posting a 7-6 record with a 2.79 ERA in 87.2 innings.
Husker History vs. Oklahoma
The Nebraska-Oklahoma series pits the two winningest Big 12 programs against each other, as the Sooners own the most wins and best winning percentage in Big 12 history, while the Huskers rank second in both categories. Nebraska leads the all-time series 39-33, but Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is just 19-20 vs. Sooner skipper Patty Gasso, who is the only Big 12 coach with a winning record against Revelle. The Huskers own an 11-10 all-time advantage in Norman, but NU has lost three straight at the OU Softball Complex. Overall, Oklahoma has won four of the last five in the series, but the Huskers won the last meeting 6-5 at the 2008 Big 12 Championship.
Last year, the Sooners swept past Nebraska in the regular season before the Huskers got revenge with a thrilling victory in Oklahoma City. In the regular-season meetings at Bowlin Stadium, Oklahoma hit six home runs in the two games while cruising to a 6-0 win in game one and an 11-1 win in game two. In the postseason meeting, Nebraska led 5-3 after three innings and held off the Sooners’ seventh-inning rally to win 6-5.
Nebraska has been hurt by the long ball recently against OU. The Sooners have slugged at least two home runs in four of the past five meetings while homering 12 times total, including a pair of four-homer games.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers travel to 12th-ranked Oklahoma for a two-game series with the Sooners this weekend:
Nebraska’s record after 33 games stands at 25-8. The Huskers have matched last year’s win total (25-28).
The only other teams in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball to win at least 25 of the first 33 games were the 1985 Huskers (25-8), the 1998 Huskers (25-8), the 2002 Huskers (28-5) and the 2006 Huskers (27-6). All of those teams except the 2006 squad went on to make the Women’s College World Series.
Nebraska returns every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,466 games at the Division I level.
NU is 452-218 (.670) all-time in the month of April, as the month has been Nebraska’s best all-time month in terms of victories and winning percentage. Last year, the Huskers were just 7-10 in April.
The Huskers have hit 22 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.
Five starters in the Husker lineup are hitting above .300.
Six Huskers have already posted double-digit walk totals this year. Last year, a total of three Huskers drew 10-or-more walks in 53 games.
Of the Huskers’ 11 returning hitters, six have set career highs this season in runs scored, five in RBIs and home runs and four in doubles.
Senior Meghan Mullin scored her 30th run of the season in Nebraska’s 31st game, becoming the fastest player to score 30 runs in a season since at least 2000.
The Huskers have held 24 of their first 33 opponents to two runs or less.
Nebraska gave up only two runs in each of its two Big 12 losses, marking the only times the Huskers have lost this season when allowing less than three runs. NU is 22-2 overall when allowing two runs or less.
The Oklahoma State loss last Sunday marked the Huskers’ first loss this season when they did not commit an error. Overall, Nebraska is 13-1 this season when playing error-free ball.
Molly Hill has enjoyed terrific run support this season. In her 16 starts, Nebraska has averaged 5.4 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 50-of-59 in stolen bases this season, a success rate of 85 percent. Overall, the Huskers have been successful on 36 of their last 39 attempts.
NU has been hurt by two-out runs in its losses. In five of NU’s eight losses, every run has scored with two outs.
Nebraska has turned 12 double plays this season, an average of 0.36 double plays per game. The Huskers rank 50th nationally in double plays per game, while their current average of double plays per game ranks as the second-highest total at Nebraska this decade. NU has also turned two twice in a single game on three occasions this season.
Senior Haley Long picked up the 100th hit of her career in game one of a doubleheader with Oklahoma State last Sunday. Long joined fellow seniors Crystal Carwile, Meghan Mullin and Darcy Rutherford as current members of the 100-hit club. The last time a Husker lineup featured four players with 100 career hits was in 2006, but that only lasted for four games, as Jamie Waldecker became the fourth member during the NCAA Tournament. The last time a Nebraska lineup featured five players with 100 career hits was in 2003. The 2009 Huskers could feature five players with 100 career hits by the end of the season, as senior Brittany Pascale owns 75 career hits.
Sixth Inning Struggles Surface Again
Although Nebraska is off to the third-best start in school history, the Huskers feel they have let a number of potential victory slip away in the late innings this season. The sixth inning was a sore spot for Nebraska early this season and it has come into play again recently.
In the Huskers’ second tournament of the season, Nebraska lost twice after giving up big sixth innings. NU lost a 2-0 lead to Cal State Fullerton by allowing three runs in the sixth inning and against Northwestern, the Huskers led 3-1 in the sixth before surrendering four runs to the ranked Wildcats. The sixth inning has come back to haunt the Huskers again since Big 12 play began. In conference play, Nebraska has allowed nine runs and five of those runs have scored in the sixth inning.
Texas A&M broke a 1-1 tie with a run in the sixth inning in the Big 12 opener and last week, Oklahoma State plated a pair of runs in the sixth inning in both games of a doubleheader. In game one, the Cowgirls’ two sixth-inning runs gave them a 3-2 lead, but Nebraska rallied to win. In game two, OSU scored the only runs of the game in the sixth inning to claim a 2-0 victory.
The sixth inning has also made Nebraska’s task of rallying for a win more difficult. Twice this season, including Wednesday against Creighton, the Huskers trailed by only one entering the sixth inning but trailed by at least three after the sixth.
The good news for the Huskers is they are in a position to win games in the late innings and by eliminating the late runs, Nebraska could have a few more victories on what is already an impressive 25-8 record. Overall, the Huskers have still outscored their opponents 26-20 in the sixth inning this year, but the 20 runs allowed are nine more than NU has allowed in any other inning.
Brechtel Batting Above .400
Julie Brechtel has hits in each of her last three at bats, as the sophomore has pushed her batting average to .411 on the season. A native of Fullerton, Calif., Brechtel has led the team in average for the past two weeks, while her current average is .048 higher than any other Husker.
With the season more than half over, Brechtel is bidding to become the first Husker to bat .400 in a season since All-American Ali Viola in 1998. With a .400 batting average in April, Brechtel is already in elite company among Huskers who have recently chased the elusive .400 mark.
Since 2000, only Brechtel, Lizzy Aumua and Anne Steffan have boasted a .400 batting average this late in the season. Aumua was hitting .442 in April of 2006 at the 33-game mark of the season and finished with a .370 average. The year before, both Aumua and Steffan were hitting well above .400 in early April before Aumua finished with a .378 average and Steffan finished at .388, the highest average by a Husker since Viola’s .424 mark in 1998. Despite their high April averages, neither Aumua nor Steffan ever had their average above .400 in May.
In addition to chasing .400, Brechtel can also leave her mark in the Husker record book with a strong finish to the season. By finishing the year with at least a .362 average, Brechtel would post one of the top three averages by a sophomore in school history, a notable accomplishment considering the current top three players were each All-Americans who combined for seven All-America certificates in their careers.
Nebraska in the NCAA Statistical Rankings
The NCAA released its second set of official statistical rankings on Tuesday and the Huskers were well represented in several categories. NU can claim to be one of the most balanced teams in the nation, as only Nebraska, No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Stanford rank in the top 30 nationally in scoring offense, ERA and fielding percentage. The Huskers rank 14th in the nation in fielding percentage (.974), 28th in scoring offense (5.50 runs per game) and 30th in ERA (1.83).
While the Huskers are among the nation’s elite in every facet of the game, they also rank among the top 50 nationally in eight of the NCAA’s 11 team categories. NU ranks 17th in winning percentage (.781), 27th in batting average (.302), 40th in stolen bases per game (1.56), 48th in slugging percentage (.433) and 50th in double plays per game (0.38). The Huskers also rank 64th in home runs per game (0.69).
It has truly been a team effort for Nebraska this season as only two Huskers are included in the NCAA’s individual rankings. Senior Molly Hill ranks 15th nationally in victories (15), 20th in saves (2) and 26th in ERA (1.21). The only other Husker among the nation’s individual leaders is fellow senior Amanda Duran, who ranks 11th nationally in sacrifice flies (3).
Huskers at No. 25 in First NCAA RPI Release
Nebraska came in at the No. 25 spot in the first official NCAA RPI rankings, released on Wednesday. The Huskers were one of four Big 12 Conference teams among the top 25 in the RPI. Each of NU’s losses has come to a team ranked in the top 70 of the RPI. Every loss had come to a top-50 RPI team prior to the Huskers’ 3-0 loss to No. 67 Creighton on Wednesday. The Huskers are 10-8 against the RPI top 100 this season, including a 2-3 mark against the top 25.