The Nebraska softball team will hit the friendly skies for the final time this weekend, when the Huskers fly to Waco, Texas, for a key two-game series with the Baylor Lady Bears on Saturday and Sunday at Getterman Stadium.
This weekend’s matchup pits two resurgent teams against each other with postseason implications on the line. After winning the program’s first-ever Big 12 title and advancing to the Women’s College World Series in 2007, Baylor missed out on the postseason last year. After finishing 23-22 last year and in eighth place in the Big 12 with a 4-13 record, the Lady Bears have responded this year. Baylor enters play this weekend with a 32-16 record and the Lady Bears are currently tied for third in the league standings with an 8-4 conference record.
Nebraska also missed out on postseason play last year, snapping the Huskers’ string of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a streak which ranked as one of the 10 longest in NCAA history. The Huskers also finished with only four conference wins last season, but like Baylor, Nebraska has bounced back to post more overall and Big 12 victories this season than all of last year. The Huskers enter play this weekend with a 29-12 record and a 6-6 mark in Big 12 play. NU is currently in fifth place in the league standings.
Both programs are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament this season and this weekend’s series could help both school’s chances. In the latest official RPI rankings released by the NCAA on Tuesday, Nebraska was ranked 29th while Baylor came in at No. 34. With four road games remaining against Baylor and league-leader Missouri, the Huskers are focused on trying to finish at least .500 in Big 12 play. That would require Nebraska to win at least one of its remaining road games, but history would be on the Huskers’ side with a .500 record in Big 12 play.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a field of 64 teams in 2003, only once has a Big 12 team finished with a .500 conference record and not been selected for the NCAA Tournament. That came last season when Oklahoma State finished 9-9 in the league and failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but the Cowgirls were just 26-25 overall and had a final RPI of 80. No Big 12 team with a winning conference record has ever been left out of the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams, while four teams have been selected for postseason play with a losing league record.
This weekend’s series will arguably be a battle of the Big 12’s top two pitchers in Husker senior right-hander Molly Hill and Baylor freshman left-hander Whitney Canion. Hill, the reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week, leads the league with a 1.33 ERA in conference games, while Canion ranks second with a mark of 1.38. Canion is also tied for the Big 12 lead with 20 victories this season, while Hill has posted 19 wins.
Hill has won four of her last five decisions in Big 12 play, as the Huskers have won four of their last six conference games. But NU is coming off a disappointing split with Iowa State this week, where the Huskers won 10-0 in five innings before losing 4-3 two days later.
Scouting the Baylor Lady Bears (32-16, 8-4 Big 12)
Baylor is 32-16 on the season and the Lady Bears sit in a tie for third place in the Big 12 standings with a record of 8-4 in conference play. Baylor had won five straight league games before falling at Texas A&M, 5-4 on Wednesday. The Lady Bears, who are among the top receiving vote getters in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, are 6-2 on the road in Big 12 play, but just 2-2 at home.
Baylor is one of the most balanced teams in the conference, as the Lady Bears rank second in the league in batting average, first in fielding percentage and fourth in ERA. Baylor also boasts a nice blend of speed and power, as BU ranks fourth in the league in home runs (25) and second in stolen bases (87). Offensively, Kayce Walker leads the team with a .415 average. She has added 30 runs scored while stealing 22-of-23 stolen bases. Alex Colyer is batting .359 with a team-high nine doubles and 31 runs scored, while Brette Reagan has returned to the lineup after tearing both the ACL and meniscus in her knee. Reagan is tied for the team lead with six home runs this season, while leading Baylor with 13 walks. Three other Lady Bears are hitting at least .320, while four have driven in 20-or-more-runs.
In the circle, freshman phenom Whitney Canion has already broken the Baylor single-season strikeout record. The left-hander has struck out a Big 12-high 314 batters this season, averaging 10.3 strikeouts-per-seven innings, a total that ranks ninth nationally. On the season, Canion is 20-12 with 10 shutouts and a 1.57 ERA in 213.2 innings. She leads the Big 12 in wins, innings, appearances, starts, shutouts, complete games and strikeouts. Behind her, Shaina Brock has seen the most action, going 7-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 45.2 innings. Brittany Turner (4-2, 3.73 ERA in 35.2 innings) and Jenny Isham (1-0, 4.12 ERA in 17.0 innings) round out the Lady Bear staff.
Husker History vs. Baylor
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Baylor, 30-10, but the series has been much more competitive in recent years. The Huskers posted a 16-game winning streak against Baylor from 1986 to 2001, marking NU’s longest winning streak ever against a Big 12 school. After breaking the streak, Baylor lost seven in a row to the Huskers. But Baylor has won five of the last eight meetings in the series, although Nebraska won the last matchup to snap the Lady Bears’ three-game winning streak in the series, their longest ever. The Huskers are 10-6 all-time in Waco, but Baylor has won the past three meetings at Getterman Stadium. Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 21-6 in her career against Baylor, including a 21-6 mark against BU Head Coach Glenn Moore.
Last season, the two teams split a doubleheader at Bowlin Stadium, with Baylor shutting out the Huskers 7-0 in game one, before Nebraska shut out the Lady Bears 5-0 in game two for its first Big 12 win of the season. In the first game, Kirsten Shortridge tossed a one-hit shutout for Baylor, while the Lady Bears pounded out eight hits. The Huskers also helped out BU by committing three errors which led to three unearned runs.
In game two, Alex Hupp fired a three-hit shutout for NU, marking the only Big 12 shutout of her career. Nebraska was much better defensively, playing error-free ball while turning two double plays. The Huskers used seven hits and four sacrifices to score their five runs, as six players had a hit and five produced at least one RBI.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers hit the road to face the Baylor Lady Bears this weekend:
The Huskers’ record stood at 25-8 after 33 games. 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 returned every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,546 games at the Division I level.
NU is 456-222 (.673) all-time in the month of April, as the month has been Nebraska’s best in terms of victories and winning percentage. Last year, the Huskers were just 7-10 in April and NU is 4-5 in 2009.
The Huskers have hit 25 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.
Six current 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, seven have set career highs this season in RBIs, six in runs scored and five in home runs and doubles.
The Huskers have held 29 of their first 41 opponents to two runs or less.
Nebraska gave up only two runs in three of its six Big 12 losses, marking the only times the Huskers have lost this season when allowing less than three runs. NU is 26-3 overall when allowing two runs or less.
Nebraska is 16-1 this season when playing error-free ball.
Molly Hill has enjoyed solid run support this season. In her 26 starts, Nebraska has averaged 4.5 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. In Big 12 play however, Hill is receiving only 3.6 runs of support.
Nebraska is 60-of-69 in stolen bases this season, a success rate of 87 percent. Overall, the Huskers have been successful on 46 of their last 49 attempts, including a perfect 13-of-13 in Big 12 play.
NU has been hurt by two-out runs in its losses. In six of NU’s 12 losses, every run has scored with two outs.
The Huskers have scored 205 runs in 41 games this season. In 2007, NU totaled 177 runs in 57 games and last year, the Huskers put up 190 runs in 53 games.
Nebraska is just 3-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season, with each of the four losses coming by just a single run. In three of those losses, the opponent has scored the winning run in its final at bat, including a pair of walk-off hits.
Overall, six of Nebraska’s 12 losses have come by just one run.
In Big 12 play, the Huskers’ six losses have come by a combined seven runs.
Huskers Posting High RBI Totals Recently
Individual Huskers have been prone to producing big RBI days over the past three games. Against No. 20 Texas last Saturday, sophomore Kelli Linke drove in a career-high five RBIs in the Huskers’ 5-2 win. Then at Iowa State on Tuesday, freshman Jamie Gay and sophomore Julie Brechtel each produced three RBIs in NU’s 10-0 five-inning win at Iowa State. Two days later, senior Amanda Duran had a three-RBI day in a home loss to the Cyclones.
Overall, four Huskers have produced three-or-more RBIs in a game over the last three contests. Prior to the recent outbreak of big RBI days, no Husker had driven in more than two runs in a game since March 24.
Huskers End Homerless Drought
Nebraska snapped an eight-game homerless streak in a big way this week in a two-game mid-week series against Iowa State. After not homering in eight straight games, the Huskers hit three home runs against Iowa State. NU entered play this week with only one home run through the first 10 Big 12 games, but the Huskers now have four home runs in conference action.
Linke Stretches Hitting Streak to Seven Games
Sophomore Kelli Linke pinch-hit in game one of a double header at Kansas on April 8 and came through with an RBI single. She has been in the starting lineup ever since and Linke has responded by hitting safely in every game since, a streak totaling seven games heading into this weekend. Linke’s seven-game hitting streak marks her career best, while she has hit safely in eight of her 10 games as a starter.
Seniors Crystal Carwile and Molly Hill have already left their mark in the Husker record books, but the senior duo have reached several impressive milestones this season. Carwile reached another milestone on Thursday when she hit her 40th career double. A native of Chino, Calif., Carwile is only the fifth player in school history to hit 40 doubles in a career. Earlier this season she became just the fourth player in Husker history to homer 30 times in a career, while last week she became the second player in Nebraska history to be hit by 20 pitches in a career.
In the circle, Hill has reached several milestones of her own and is close to another. Earlier this season, Hill became the sixth pitcher in school history to record 600 career strikeouts, the fifth to throw 70 complete games and the fifth to earn 100 career decisions. a native of Wayne, Neb., Hill is one win away from becoming the sixth pitcher in school history to win 70 career games and 13.1 innings away from becoming the fourth Husker pitcher to throw 700.0 career innings.
Duran Driving Them In
Senior Amanda Duran has produced five RBIs in two conference games this week against Iowa State. Duran recorded a two-run double in the first meeting with Iowa State on Tuesday, before adding a three-run homer two days later against the Cyclones. All five RBIs have come in the first inning.
Before recording five RBIs in two games this week, Duran had only five RBIs over her last 15 games. On the season, Duran ranks second on the team with a career-high 28 RBIs.
Stolen Base Success
Nebraska has been great at stealing bases this season and even better when defending against the stolen base. Opponents have only been successful on 17-of-28 stolen base attempts this year. The 17 stolen bases rank as the second-fewest stolen bases allowed by a Big 12 school, while the Huskers’ 39 percent caught stealing rate leads the league.
Offensively, NU ranks third in the league with 60 stolen bases in only 69 attempts, as the Huskers’ 87 percent success rate ranks third in the Big 12. Nebraska is a perfect 13-of-13 in stolen bases in conference action.