The Nebraska softball team closes the regular season with a two-game series at 14th-ranked Missouri this weekend. Seedings for the Big 12 Championship will be on the line this weekend, while the series will also have postseason implications for both teams.
Missouri (41-8 overall, 11-5 Big 12) is currently second in the Big 12 standings and the Tigers can clinch the No. 2 seed for the Big 12 Championship with a sweep. But Missouri could also slide to as low as the No. 4 seed if the Huskers were to post a sweep. From an NCAA Tournament perspective, Missouri came in at the No. 14 spot in the latest official NCAA RPI ranking, released on Tuesday. A successful weekend would put the Tigers in excellent shape to earn one of the 16 No. 1 seeds for NCAA Regional play, while also improving Missouri’s chances to host an NCAA Regional.
For the Huskers, a .500 conference finish is on the line this weekend. NU enters the series with an overall record of 33-15 following a 3-1 win at Creighton on Tuesday. But the Huskers are 8-8 in Big 12 play and are fifth in the conference standings. NU needs one win this weekend to ensure at least a .500 conference record, while two wins would give the Huskers a winning league record and guarantee the Big Red the No. 5 seed at the Big 12 Championship.
The Huskers’ conference finish this weekend also has major implications on Nebraska’s chances to be an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament. If NU loses both games, it would finish with an 8-10 Big 12 record. In the 13-year history of the conference, only four teams have earned an at-large bid to the postseason with a losing league record.
NU’s odds of earning an at-large bid would increase significantly with one win and history would be in the Huskers’ corner if they came away with a sweep. 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 tournament. Since the field expanded, every Big 12 team that has finished with a winning league record has earned an NCAA Tournament berth.
Pitching should prove to be the key this weekend, as Missouri and Nebraska rank first and second in the league in ERA. The Tigers lead the Big 12 with a 1.31 ERA this season and only 84 runs allowed, while Nebraska is second with a 1.69 ERA and 103 runs allowed.In Big 12 play, NU is first with a 1.52 ERA and 32 runs allowed, while Missouri is second with 40 runs allowed and third with a 1.96 ERA.
With two outstanding pitching staffs, the games should be close and the Huskers will be looking for better results in those close games. NU’s eight Big 12 losses have come by a combined nine runs. On the road, things have been even more heartbreaking for the Huskers, as each of Nebraska’s five Big 12 road losses have come by only one run. That includes four losses where the opponent scored in its final at bat and a pair of extra-inning setbacks.
Fans can follow all of this weekend’s action live at Huskers.com, as Nate Rohr will provide play-by-play for the Husker Sports Network.
Scouting the 14th-Ranked Missouri Tigers (41-8, 11-5 Big 12)
Missouri was off this week and enters the weekend series with a 41-8 overall record and an 11-5 mark in Big 12 play. The Tigers had won 10 straight games and 16 of their last 17 prior to losing their last three. Each of those three losses have come at home to a Big 12 Conference team, as Iowa State defeated Missouri 4-3 in game two of a doubleheader on April 22, while 10th-ranked Oklahoma swept the Tigers last weekend, winning 6-2 and 4-2.
Missouri is the most statistically balanced team in the Big 12, as the Tigers lead the league in batting average and ERA, while ranking fourth in fielding percentage. In addition to those rankings, MU is sixth nationally in average, ERA and wining percentage, seventh in stolen bases per game and eighth in scoring.
Offensively, three Tigers are hitting better than .400 while nine players are batting above .300. Shana White leads the team with a .449 average, but she has had only 69 at bats. Marla Schweisberger has nearly twice as many at bats and is batting .420 with eight doubles, seven homers and a team-high 43 RBIs. All-American Rhea Taylor, the 2008 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, is batting .410 and leads the team with 28 stolen bases. Lindsey Ubrun has been the Tigers’ top power hitter, as she leads the team with 13 home runs and a .746 slugging percentage to go along with a .361 average. Nine of Ubrun’s 13 home runs have coming during Big 12 play, while Megan Christopher has homered five times in conference action.
In the circle, Missouri has primarily used a three-pitcher rotation and the results have been impressive. The staff has combined for a league-low 1.31 ERA, while limiting opponents to a Big 12-best .195 average. On the season, Missouri has allowed 19 fewer runs than any other team while tossing a league-high 19 shutouts. The Tigers’ three primary pitchers all have an ERA of 1.35 or below. Missouri actually has four pitchers among the top five in the Big 12 Conference in ERA, with NU’s Molly Hill being the only other pitcher to rank in the top five. Stacy Delaney (13-2) leads the league with a 1.12 ERA in 106.0 innings, while Kristin Nottelman (11-2) is second with a 1.25 mark in 67.0 innings, Chelsea Thomas (10-4) ranks fourth with a 1.35 ERA in 98.2 innings and Jana Hainey (7-0) has posted a 1.70 ERA in 49.1 innings to rank fifth.
In Big 12 action, the staff’s numbers have dipped slightly, although Delaney still leads the league with a 1.24 ERA. In conference-only games, Missouri has an ERA of 1.96, which ranks third in the league.
Husker History vs. Missouri
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Missouri 49-32 and the Huskers and Tigers are meeting on the final weekend of the regular season for the seventh straight year. The teams have split the past 10 meetings in the series, including a split at Bowlin Stadium last year. NU swept the regular-season series in 2006, marking the only regular-season series sweep by either team in the past five years. Overall, the teams have split six of the past seven series. Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 25-18 in her career against Missouri, including a 2-2 mark against third-year Tiger Head Coach Ehren Earleywine. Nebraska is 15-11 all-time in Columbia, but the Huskers are just 6-6 at Missouri in the Big 12 era. In each of those six losses, NU has been shut out.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers close the regular season with a two-game series at 14th-ranked Missouri this weekend:
Nebraska returned every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,616 games at the Division I level.
The Huskers have hit 27 home runs this season after homering only 15 times in 2008 and 14 times in 2007.
NU has scored 233 runs in 48 games this season. In 2007, Nebraska totaled 177 runs in 57 games and last year, the Huskers put up 190 runs in 53 games.
Six Huskers have hit more than one home run this season, the highest total at NU since 2003.
Eight Huskers have drawn at least 10 walks this year. Last year, only three Huskers drew 10-or-more walks.
Of the Huskers’ 11 returning hitters, eight have set career highs this season in runs scored, seven in RBIs, six in doubles and five in home runs.
The Huskers have held 33 of their first 48 opponents to two runs or less.
NU is 30-3 this season when allowing two runs or less, with all three losses coming in Big 12 play.
Nebraska is 27-2 this season when out-hitting the opponent.
The Huskers are 16-2 this season when playing error-free ball.
NU is 17-2 this season when homering.
Overall, eight of Nebraska’s 15 losses have come by just one run. The Huskers are 7-8 in one-run games.
Big 12 Turnaround
After finishing in a tie for ninth in the final 2008 Big 12 standings and earning the No. 10 seed at the Big 12 Championship, Nebraska has shown dramatic improvement in conference play this season. Following a split last weekend with Texas Tech, the Huskers are 8-8 in Big 12 play and sit in fifth place in the conference standings.
With five more conference victories from 2008 to 2009, Nebraska has posted the second-best win-total improvement in the 14-year history of the Big 12 Conference. The Huskers are also poised to become just the second team in league history to be the 10th seed in the conference tournament one year and then be a top-six seed the next season.
The greatest single-season improvement in Big 12 history came from the 2003 to the 2004 campaign by Baylor. The Lady Bears were the No. 10 seed at the 2003 Big 12 Tournament following a 3-15 conference season. But in 2004, Baylor finished fourth in the league standings with an 11-6 record.
Husker Offense Moving Up Season Charts
The Nebraska offense has posted impressive totals this season in its first year under the direction of hitting coach Diane Miller. The offensive totals the Huskers have produced are among the best in school history, as NU currently has seven offensive categories where the 2009 squad’s total would rank among the top five season marks in Husker history.
The 2009 Huskers are currently poised to threaten three school records. NU’s .383 on-base percentage is .001 higher than the school record, while the Huskers have been hit by 43 pitches, one shy of the top mark in NU history. Nebraska is also averaging 3.44 walks per game, which ranks well above the school-record mark of 3.12 set in 1996.
Hill Ties Sippel for Career Victories
Senior right-hander Molly Hill earned the victory over Creighton on Tuesday, as she did not allow an earned run in a complete-game effort that included nine strikeouts. The win was the 73rd of her career, as she moved into a tie for fourth place on the Husker career chart. The pitcher she tied was former Husker All-American and current Associate Head Coach Lori Sippel, who also won 73 games from 1985 to 1988.
Duran Posts Big Week
Senior Amanda Duran proved to be an exceptionally tough out in four games last week. Duran went 9-for-11 on the week to post an .818 batting average, as she recorded at least two hits in every game while hitting safely in a career-high-tying four straight games. Overall, Duran also coaxed two walks to post an .846 on-base percentage, as she reached base safely in 11 of her 13 plate appearances.
In addition to the high hit total, Duran also came through with big hits. She had an extra-base hit in three of the four games last week, while producing a total of five RBIs. Her slugging percentage was 1.091, while she was a perfect 7-for-7 with runners on base, 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-1 with the bases loaded.
Duran began her week by tying her career highs with three hits and three RBIs in game one against Northern Iowa. She then went 2-for-3 with two more RBIs in game two against the Panthers, before going 4-for-5 with a double and a walk in a Big 12 Conference doubleheader with Texas Tech.
Duran was also outstanding behind the plate, where she was perfect defensively in 26 chances. She caught one shutout while throwing out all three runners who attempted to steal a base.
After the big week last week, Duran began this week in solid fashion at Creighton on Tuesday night. Although she went hitless in the game to snap her four-game hitting streak, Duran reached base safely in two of her three plate appearances. She walked once and was hit by a pitch while scoring one run and officially going 0-for-1.
Stat of the Week
Sophomore Julie Brechtel slugged her fifth season of the home run on Tuesday at Creighton. Brechtel and classmate Heidi Foland have combined for 10 home runs this season between themselves, marking the highest home run total by an entire sophomore class at Nebraska since the 2002 second-year class hit 15 homers.
Huskers vs. Ranked Teams
Nebraska is 4-7 against ranked teams this season, including a 1-3 road mark. The Huskers have been better against the Big 12’s ranked teams, posting a 3-3 record against league opponents who were ranked at the time of the game. Each of Nebraska’s three losses to ranked Big 12 teams came by only one run while overall, four of the Huskers’ seven losses to ranked teams have been one-run defeats.
Senior right-hander Molly Hill has been impressive against ranked teams, despite a 4-6 record. She boasts a 1.56 ERA in 63.0 innings against ranked teams this season, while she is 3-3 with a 1.54 ERA in 41.0 innings against ranked Big 12 teams.
Offensively, the Huskers are hitting only .217 in their six games against ranked Big 12 teams this season. Sophomore Kelli Linke has been the Huskers’ most productive hitter in those games, as she has posted a .455 average (5-for-11) with a double and six RBIs despite starting only three of those six contests.
Hill Posting Impressive Big 12 Totals
Molly Hill has started 15 of the Huskers’ 16 Big 12 Conference games, and the senior right-hander has put up impressive totals. Hill’s 1.37 ERA in conference-only games ranks second in the Big 12. But Hill has posted her mark while throwing 102.1 innings in conference action, while ERA leader Stacy Delaney (1.24) of Missouri has only thrown 45.1 innings.
Hill is 8-6 in the Big 12 this season as she and Baylor’s Whitney Canion are the only hurlers who have been the winning pitcher in each of their team’s conference victories. Behind Hill’s outstanding efforts, Nebraska has allowed only 32 runs during the league season. Every other Big 12 school has given up at least 40 runs, while seven of the remaining nine schools have allowed at least 20 more runs in conference play than Nebraska.
Huskers Nearing 1,000th NCAA Win
Since softball became an official NCAA sport in 1982, Nebraska has posted 999 victories. With one more win, the Huskers will record their 1,000th victory of the NCAA era. Although no official statistic is kept for victories in the NCAA-era only, according to research from CBS College Sports conducted in 2008, the Huskers would become only the 10th program to post 1,000 wins in the NCAA era. The nine teams who have reached 1,000 NCAA wins are UCLA, Arizona, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton, Louisiana-Lafayette, California, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and East Carolina.