The Nebraska softball team returns to the NCAA Tournament this weekend, when the Huskers travel to Knoxville, Tenn., for regional play at Lee Softball Stadium on the campus of the University of Tennessee.
NU (34-17) opens play in the double-elimination regional at 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Friday against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Jacksonville State, located in Jacksonville, Ala., earned an at-large bid into its second straight NCAA Tournament, becoming the first Ohio Valley Conference softball program to ever earn an at-large invitation to the tournament.
Nebraska's game with Jacksonville State (39-13) can be heard live for free on Huskers.com, and in Lincoln on 90.3 FM-KRNU and 105.3 FM-WOW. The game will also be made available to all Husker Sports Network radio stations across the state of Nebraska. Individual affiliate's coverage of the game will be up to their individual program schedules.
Host Tennessee, the No. 13 national seed, and Colonial Athletic Association automatic qualifier James Madison will face off in the second game of the day. The winners will meet at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the losers squaring off in a 3 p.m. elimination game.
Nebraska will see some unfamiliar competition in its return to the NCAA Tournament, as the Huskers have never faced Jacksonville State or James Madison. Nebraska has only played Tennessee twice, with the Lady Vols winning both contests, including a 9-0 six-inning victory in February of last season. The trip to Tennessee marks Nebraska’s first NCAA Regional outside of Lincoln or Iowa City since 2001, while the Huskers won’t have either Iowa or Creighton in their regional for the first time in their last six NCAA Tournament appearances.
While the Huskers will be leaving the nation’s heartland this weekend, fans can still follow all of the action live. Nate Rohr will be making the trip to call all of the action for the Husker Sports Network, while Tennessee will offer a free live video stream of all of Friday and Saturday’s games. All live coverage, including live audio and video, will be offered for free on NCAA.com.
Nebraska earned an at-large berth into the tournament after missing the postseason last year. The Huskers had made 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances before last season, when the Nebraska roster featured no seniors for the first time in program history.
The Huskers returned every starter this season and the seven-player senior class - the largest in the 34-year history of Nebraska softball - made a postseason appearance the team’s top priority.
NU takes a 34-17 record into play this weekend, including a 10-12 record vs. the NCAA Tournament field. Five of those 12 losses have come by only a single run, as Nebraska is just 7-8 in one-run games this season.
In its last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2007, Nebraska was on the wrong end of two one-run decisions while finishing winless in postseason play for the first time in school history. Overall, four of NU’s last six NCAA Tournament losses have come by one run.
NU has lost its last three NCAA Tournament games, marking the longest postseason losing streak in program history. NU still ranks eighth nationally with 51 all-time tournament wins.
Scouting the No. 2 Seed Jacksonville State Gamecocks (39-13)
Jacksonville State, located in Jacksonville, Ala., earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, marking the first-ever at-large bid for an Ohio Valley Conference school. The Gamecocks are 39-13 on the season and share one common opponent with Nebraska in North Dakota State. JSU shut out NDSU 4-0 on Feb. 27, while NU needed extra innings twice to win a pair of one-run games over the Bison on March 17. Jacksonville State went 4-7 against NCAA Tournament teams this season. Last year, the Gamecocks defeated Florida State twice to finish as the NCAA regional runner-up to Alabama.
The Gamecocks rank first in the nation in doubles per game, while ranking 10th in slugging percentage and 11th in home runs per game. Nikki Prier paces the offense with a .409 average, 20 doubles, 12 home runs and a .786 slugging percentage. Prier ranks second in the nation in doubles per game, while ranking in the top 50 in average, RBIs and slugging percentage. Three other Gamecocks are hitting over .300 this season, including Chrissy O’Neal, who ranks second on the squad with a .378 average and 10 home runs, while leading the team with 46 runs scored. Alli Barker is batting .366 with 15 doubles, nine home runs and 37 RBIs, while Hillary Downs is hitting .343 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and a team-best 14 stolen bases. The Gamecocks also boast speed, as they have been successful on 42-of-44 stolen-base attempts this season.
In the circle, JSU primarily uses a two-pitcher rotation, with both pitchers ranking in the top 45 nationally in ERA. As a staff, Jacksonville State is 28th in ERA. Ashley Eliasson has thrown a team-high 135.1 innings, compiling a 16-7 record and a 1.55 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .170 against her, but she has allowed 16 home runs. Karla Pittman boasts a 1.30 ERA that ranks in the top 25 nationally. Pittman has allowed only two home runs in 123.2 innings while posting a 15-2 record.
A Quick Look at the Rest of the Knoxville Regional Field
In addition to Nebraska and Jacksonville State, Tennessee and James Madison round out the Knoxville Regional field. Tennessee is the regional host and the Lady Vols earned the No. 13 seed for the NCAA Tournament following a 38-16-1 regular season. UT is in the field for the fifth straight season and the seventh time overall. James Madison earned an automatic bid by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Dukes, located in Harrisonburg, Va., are 35-14 on the season and are making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Lady Vols played 31 of their 55 games against NCAA Tournament teams, including 14 against the top 12 seeds in the tournament. UT posted a 17-14 record against the NCAA Tournament field, including a 3-11 mark against the seeded teams. Tennessee’s strength is its offense, as the Lady Vols are hitting .307 as a team with 68 doubles and 44 home runs. UT is averaging 5.5 runs per game, but the Lady Vols are allowing more than three runs per game, as they boast a team ERA of 2.74. Tennessee also ranks fourth nationally in fielding percentage.
James Madison’s strength is its pitching staff, as the Dukes own a 1.66 staff ERA that ranks in the top 25 nationally. JMU played seven games against the NCAA Tournament field, posting a 4-3 record in those games, including a 3-1 loss at Tennessee. The Dukes are averaging 4.1 runs per game while allowing 2.3.
NCAA Tournament History of the Knoxville Regional Field
Nebraska boasts the richest NCAA Tournament tradition of any of the four teams in the Knoxville Regional, despite recent success by Tennessee that includes three World Series appearances in the past four seasons.
NU’s 19 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances are more than the rest of the regional field combined (10).
NU’s 51 all-time NCAA Tournament wins are more than the rest of the regional field combined (32).
NU’s seven all-time World Series appearances are more than the rest of the regional field combined (three).
Noting NU in the NCAA Tournament
Nebraska is in an elite class when it comes to postseason play, as NU’s rich history dates back to the inaugural Women’s College World Series in Omaha in 1982. In the NCAA Tournament, the Huskers have:
Made 19 all-time appearances, a total that leads the Big 12 and ranks 10th nationally.
Won 51 games, a total that ranks eighth nationally.
Advanced to seven Women’s College World Series, a total that leads the Big 12 and ranks seventh nationally.
Only lost their opening game twice in 13 appearances under Head Coach Rhonda Revelle.
Compiled a 51-39 (.567) all-time NCAA Tournament record.
Compiled a 40-25 (.615) NCAA Regional record.
Compiled a 1-1 (.500) record against teams from the Colonial Athletic Association.
Compiled a 3-1 (.750) record against the Southeastern Conference.
Recapping NU’s Last NCAA Tournament (2007)
Making its 13th straight NCAA Tournament appearance and 18th overall, the 2007 Huskers were the only team in school history to make the postseason but not win at least one game. NU lost a 2-0 lead against Georgia in game one, falling 3-2. The Huskers then fell to Creighton in an elimination game, as the Huskers led 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning before a hit batter, an error, two passed balls and an infield single allowed the Bluejays to rally for a 2-1 win.
Nebraska scored only three runs in its two games, batting just .216 without an extra-base hit and drawing only two walks and one hit batter. The Huskers excelled in the circle however, as Ashley DeBuhr compiled a 1.02 ERA in throwing two complete games. NU committed four errors defensively, leading to three unearned runs.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers travel to Knoxville, Tenn., for NCAA Regional play:
Nebraska returned every starter from the 2008 season and a total of 15 letterwinners. Overall, the Huskers’ 21-player roster has combined to start 1,646 games at the Division I level.
The Huskers have hit 31 home runs this season after homering only 29 times the past two seasons combined.
NU has scored 244 runs in 51 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, nine have set career highs in runs scored, eight in walks and RBIs, seven in home runs and six in doubles under the direction of first-year hitting coach Diane Miller.
The Huskers have held their opponent to two runs or less in 34 of their 51 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 18-3 this season when homering.
Overall, eight of Nebraska’s 17 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.
Senior right-hander Molly Hill needs four strikeouts to reach 700 in her career.
Senior Meghan Mullin will be playing in her 200th career game on Friday.
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 in 2009, 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 earned the No. 3 seed for the 2009 tournament following an 11-7 record in conference play.
Below is a breakdown of how the No. 10 seed for every Big 12 Championship fared the next season:
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. The Huskers have now been hit by a school-record 46 pitches this season, eclipsing the previous record of 44 set last season. Nebraska is also averaging 3.43 walks per game, which ranks well above the school-record mark of 3.12 set in 1996. NU’s current .381 on-base percentage is just .001 behind the best mark in school history.
Huskers Seek 10-Game Improvement from 2008
With one victory this weekend at the Knoxville Regional, Nebraska will post a double-digit win improvement from one season to the next for only the sixth time in program history. The Huskers currently own nine more wins this season than they had all of last year, despite playing two fewer games in 2009.
The last Nebraska team to post a double-digit win improvement was the 2000 Huskers, which won 52 games after winning only 35 games in 1999. Overall, the 2009 Huskers are the first team to post a higher win total than the previous season since 2006.
Huskers Historically Enjoy Success in NCAA Tournament Openers
Nebraska has traditionally excelled in its first game in the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 11-2 in her career in NCAA Tournament openers, while Nebraska is 15-3 all-time in NCAA openers, with all three losses coming at home (1985, 2003 and 2007).
A big part of that success has been the work of the Husker pitching staff. Nebraska has thrown a shutout in its NCAA Tournament opener in three of its past four openers and four of its last six.
Carwile Riding Six-Game Hitting Streak
Senior Crystal Carwile is ending her decorated Husker career on a strong note. Despite playing through a torn ACL injury all season, Carwile has hit safely in each of her last six games. The six-game hitting streak is a season-high for the Chino, Calif., native, while the streak is just one game off her career best.
Note of the Week
Nebraska has played 1,773 games in the 34-year history of the program, but not once have the Huskers played a team whose name begins with the letter ‘J’. That will change on Friday, when NU faces Jacksonville State in game one of the Knoxville Regional. Furthermore, Jacksonville State had been the only school whose name began with the letter ‘J’ to ever qualify for the NCAA Softball Tournament, but that will also change this weekend as James Madison joins Jacksonville State, Nebraska and Tennessee at the Knoxville Regional.