The Nebraska softball team begins postseason play this weekend when the Huskers travel to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Championship. Fifth-seeded NU will face fourth-seeded Texas on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the first round of the single-elimination tournament.
The Huskers have historically been successful at the conference tournament. Nebraska is 33-17 all-time at the Big 12 Championship. The Huskers rank second among all Big 12 programs with 33 wins, a .660 winning percentage and three tournament titles. Nebraska has also added four runner-up finishes - including last season - as the Huskers have advanced to the title game a league-high seven times in the first 13 years of the tournament.
A return trip to the title game will not be easy this season. The Huskers open play with a tough Texas squad, which is receiving votes in both major polls. Texas finished with an 11-7 record in conference play, posting two more Big 12 wins than the Huskers. Nebraska swept a two-game series from Texas at Bowlin Stadium the second weekend of April. The Huskers were one of only two Big 12 teams to sweep Texas this season.
The other teams in Nebraska’s half of the bracket include top-seeded Oklahoma, the No. 8 seed Iowa State and ninth-seeded Kansas. The Big 12 regular-season champion Sooners will face the winner of the Iowa State-Kansas game, with the winner of that contest getting the winner of Nebraska-Texas at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday with a trip to the title game at stake.
The Huskers enter the Big 12 Championship coming off a strong performance last week. The week began with a 3-1 road win over Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion Creighton. Facing one of the top pitchers in the country, the Huskers came through with timely hitting to post their first win over Creighton in four tries. After being shut out in the first meeting between the teams this season, sophomore Julie Brechtel homered in the second inning and senior Crystal Carwile produced a clutch two-out, two-run single in the third to seal the win.
Nebraska then traveled to 14th-ranked Missouri last weekend and secured a .500 finish in Big 12 play with a dominating 6-1 win in the first game, marking the Tigers’ worst loss of the season. Junior Whitney Barrett and sophomore Kelli Linke each homered in the win, while senior right-hander Molly Hill delivered another outstanding effort in the circle.
After not allowing an earned run in a six-hit, nine-strikeout performance at Creighton, Hill tossed another six-hitter and again did not allow an earned run against Missouri.
The week ended on a sour note for NU, as Missouri topped the Huskers 5-0 in the regular season finale. Both teams recorded only three hits in the game, but the Tigers got all three of their hits in a five-run third inning, including a grand slam. The loss marked Nebraska’s only conference defeat by more than two runs.
Scouting the No. 4 Seed Texas Longhorns (37-17, 11-7 Big 12)
Texas enters the Big 12 Championship with a 37-17 record. The Longhorns have won six of their last nine games, although they lost their final game of the regular season last Saturday to Texas A&M, 6-1. Texas finished in a tied for third place in the final Big 12 standings with an 11-7 league record, but fell to the No. 4 seed at the Big 12 Championship after losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with Baylor.
The Longhorns boast one of the top offenses in the Big 12, as Texas leads the league with 55 home runs and 11 triples, while ranking second with 72 doubles and third with a .299 average and 263 runs scored. The Longhorns will be getting their third look at NU senior right-hander Molly Hill on Saturday, as Hill limited Texas to only three runs over 14.0 innings earlier this year.
Courtney Craig and Loryn Johnson are both hitting above .400 for the Longhorns this season. Craig leads Texas and ranks third in the conference with a .412 average. Craig has added five home runs, as she is one of six Longhorns who have hit at least six homers this season. Johnson is batting .409 and leads the Big 12 with 67 hits. She also ranks second in the league with 13 doubles, and she leads UT with 48 RBIs. Desiree Williams has also been a tough out. Williams has slugged 10 doubles and a team-high 12 home runs, while she has also drawn a Big 12-leading 47 walks this season, a new Texas single-season record.
In the circle, Brittany Barnhill has seen the majority of the action for the Longhorns. Barnhill, who started both games against Nebraska earlier this season, is 23-12 on the season with a 2.65 ERA in 203.1 innings. The sophomore is second in the Big 12 in wins behind Hill, while she has tossed five shutouts and struck out 151. Torrey Schroeder has compiled a 9-3 record and a 3.26 ERA in 81.2 innings for the Longhorns and Erin Tresselt is 5-2 with a staff-low 2.37 ERA in 59.0 innings.
Husker History vs. Texas
NU leads the all-time series with Texas 18-14, but the Longhorns have won seven of the last 11 meetings, despite a Husker sweep in Lincoln earlier this season. Overall, the series has generally been close, as 22 of the 32 all-time meetings have been decided by two runs or less, including a 2-1 Husker victory on April 10 at Bowlin Stadium. Head Coach Rhonda Revelle has been in charge of the Husker program in each of the 32 all-time meetings, as has Texas Head Coach Connie Clark. The programs have met six times at the Big 12 Championship, with Texas owning a 4-2 lead.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers begin postseason play with the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City 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 1,636 games at the Division I level.
The Huskers have hit 29 home runs this season after homering only 29 times the past two seasons combined.
NU has scored 239 runs in 50 games this season. In 2007, Nebraska totaled 177 runs in 57 games and last year, the Huskers put up 190 runs in 53 games.
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 and RBIs, seven in home runs and six in doubles.
The Huskers have held their opponent to two runs or less in 34 of their 50 games this season.
NU is 31-3 this season when allowing two runs or less, with all three losses coming in Big 12 play.
Nebraska is 28-2 this season when out-hitting the opponent.
NU is 18-2 this season when homering.
Overall, eight of Nebraska’s 16 losses have come by just one run. The Huskers are 7-8 in one-run games.
Nebraska is 9-6 on the road this season after finishing with a losing road record in both 2007 and 2008.
A team seeded fifth or lower has advanced to the title game of the Big 12 Championship in each of the past four seasons. Before the recent underdog trend, the No. 5 seed or lower advanced to the title game only twice in the first nine years of the Big 12 Championship.
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 made a terrific turnaround, finishing fifth in the league standings this season.
With five more conference victories from 2008 to 2009, Nebraska posted the third-best win-total improvement in the 14-year history of the Big 12 Conference. The Huskers are also only 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 2003 to 2004, when Baylor improved from 3-15 to 11-6. The Lady Bears nearly matched that turnaround this season. Baylor earned the No. 7 seed at last year’s Big 12 Championship with a 4-13 league record, but the Lady Bears are the No. 3 seed this weekend following an 11-7 record in conference play.
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 six offensive categories where the 2009 squad’s total would rank among the top five season marks in Husker history.
The 2009 Huskers have already set one school record this season and the Big Red could threaten two more. After being hit by two pitches at Missouri last weekend, the Huskers have now been hit by a school-record 45 pitches this season, eclipsing the previous record of 44 set last season. Nebraska is also averaging 3.42 walks per game, which ranks well above the school-record mark of 3.12 set in 1996. NU’s current .380 on-base percentage is just .002 behind the best mark in school history.
Huskers Set School Hit-by-Pitch Record
Nebraska was hit by two pitches last weekend at 14th-ranked Missouri, as the Huskers set a new school record for hit batters in a season. NU has been hit by 45 pitches this year, breaking last year’s record of 44 hit batters.
Junior Whitney Barrett and sophomore Kelli Linke each hit their first home run of the season in the Huskers’ 6-1 victory at No. 14 Missouri last Saturday. Barrett’s three-run blast was the first of her career, as she had not recorded an extra-base hit in 43 games before homering. Linke’s solo shot was the second of her career, after hitting her first career home run last season against Creighton.
Linke became the ninth Husker to homer this season, before Barrett became the 10th four innings later. The 2009 season marks the first time in the 34-year history of the program that 10 players have homered in the same season. The previous high had been nine players homering in both the 1998 and 2004 seasons.
Additionally, six Huskers have hit more than one home run this season. That represents the highest total at Nebraska since 2003 and the fourth-highest total in Husker history. In 2002, eight players homered more than twice while seven players hit at least two home runs in both 1997 and 1998.
Sophomore Kelli Linke hit her first home run of the season last Saturday at 14th-ranked Missouri. Linke and her fellow sophomores have combined for 11 home runs this season, the highest total by a sophomore class since 2002. In addition to Linke’s home run, classmates Julie Brechtel and Heidi Foland are both tied for the team lead with five home runs this season.
Stat of the Week
Nebraska hit six home runs during the 18-game Big 12 Conference schedule, despite not getting a single home from from senior Crystal Carwile. Carwile entered 2009 as the league’s active leader with 11 career Big 12 homers. Playing through a torn ACL injury has limited Carwile this season, after she hit four Big 12 homers last year, homered twice in Big 12 play in 2007 and connected on five home runs in 2006.
Minus Carwile, this year’s roster combined for six Big 12 home runs after totaling only two combined home runs over the past three seasons.
Nebraska Records 1,000th NCAA Win
Since softball became an official NCAA sport in 1982, Nebraska has posted exactly 1,000 victories after winning at 14th-ranked Missouri last Saturday. 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 are only the 10th program to post 1,000 wins in the NCAA era. The nine other teams that have reached 1,000 NCAA wins are UCLA, Arizona, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton, Louisiana-Lafayette, California, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and East Carolina.
Brechtel’s Errorless Streak Comes to an End
Sophomore Julie Brechtel saw an impressive streak come to an end at 14th-ranked Missouri last weekend. Brechtel committed her only error of the conference season in game one against Missouri. The error snapped a string of 31 consecutive errorless games for Brechtel at second base, while snapping her streak of 117 consecutive chances without committing an error.
Brechtel and junior shortstop Whitney Barrett have teamed up to give the Huskers outstanding middle infield play this season. Barrett has gone 14 straight games without committing an error, a streak totaling 62 consecutive chances. The duo combined for just four errors in 18 Big 12 games. Overall, Brechtel has committed only two errors in her last 43 games, while Barrett has committed only two errors over her last 27 games.
Huskers Finish Fifth in Final Big 12 Standings
Nebraska split its two-game series at 14th-ranked Missouri last weekend, as the Huskers finished in fifth place in the final Big 12 Conference standings with a 9-9 record. The finish was a big improvement from last season, when virtually the exact same roster finished in a tie for last place with a 4-14 conference record that marked the only losing Big 12 record in school history. Below are some brief notes from the Huskers’ 2009 conference season:
In its nine league wins, Nebraska outscored its opponents 45-9.
Seven of the Huskers’ nine conference losses came by just one run, while an eighth was by only two runs.
In seven of NU’s nine Big 12 losses, the Huskers either had the lead or the game was tied in the sixth inning.
NU lost four games in the opponent’s final at bat, including two in extra innings.
The Huskers played 11 of their 18 games on the road, posting a 5-6 road record, including a 2-4 mark against the top four teams in the final standings.
Nebraska allowed a Big 12-low 38 runs, while posting a league-best 1.64 ERA.
NU allowed only two home runs in league play.
Molly Hill tied for the Big 12 lead in shutouts (3) and appearances (18), while ranking second in ERA (1.56), wins (9), innings (112.1), starts (17) and complete games (13).
A sophomore led NU in average, doubles, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.