I offer a suggestion to those disappointed with the plight of the Nebraska Cornhuskers baseball team. Walk twenty yards north and take in a game at Bowlin Stadium; watch the other team playing on a diamond, your Nebraska softball team.
Coach Rhonda Revelle, in her 29th year at the helm, has her Cornhuskers on top of the Big Ten Conference with an 8-0 record, 29-9 overall. Most impressive is that they have won 15 consecutive games, including a two-game sweep over the then 19th ranked Michigan on their home field.
The Cornhuskers are getting it done with a very potent and powerful offensive attack. As a team, they are second in the conference in hitting with a .318 average. More important, they are on top of the league with 59 home runs and an incredible 236 RBI. Going a little further, they also are on top with .557 slugging percentage. When you consider that even though opponents have opted to walk Cornhusker hitters — a league high 141 bases on balls — rather than take a chance against the big bats, the slugging percentage and RBI totals show that Nebraska is getting a lot of timely hitting as well.
The two game midweek series against Iowa indicates how dangerous and explosive this team is at the plate. In the first inning, after lead-off batter Billie Andrews flew out to right field, four of the next five batters had singles and the team notched three runs to stake a lead. While starting pitcher Courtney Wallace only faced ten Iowa batters in the first three innings, Cornhusker hitters blew it open in the bottom of the third, sending 16 to the plate and scoring 11 runs on nine hits. Of those nine hits, Brooke Andrews and Cam Ybarra hit doubles, Ava Bredwell tripled, and Caitlynn Neal hit a grand slam home run.
When the dust cleared an inning and a half later, Nebraska had a 14-1 victory, their tenth run rule win of the season.
For those of you that do not follow college softball, there is a mercy rule that kicks in after four and a half innings if a team is up by eight runs. Nebraska has the power that makes that outcome a possibility every time they take the field.
Leading the offensive charge this season is sophomore lead-off hitter Billie Andrews from Gretna. The starting shortstop is not your typical power hitter, as she is perhaps the smallest player on the team, and smaller than your average D1 shortstop. Against Iowa in game one, she hit her Big Ten-leading 18th homer of the season. She is hitting for average at .387. How much respect do other teams have for her? Two weeks ago, in a three-game series against Rutgers, she only had one official at bat, and was intentionally walked ten times.
Other Nebraska batters have hit their share over the wall this season. Sydney Gray has eight dingers, Cam Ybarra and Abbie Squire check in with seven, and Mya Felder, Olivia Ferrell, and Brooke Andrews all have three. Ybarra and Bredwell are in the top ten in the conference for triples. The hitting has been prolific.
Nebraska is playing very solid defensively with a .974 fielding percentage, which ranks them third in the Big Ten. The infield is very solid with Gray (3B), Billie Andrews (SS), Ybarra (2B), and Felder (1B) the regular starters, and Bredwell stepping in this season behind the plate. Against Iowa, from left to right in the outfield, were Squire, Neal, and Brooke Andrews. This is a sophomore-junior heavy starting lineup with Ybarra being the only senior.
Without pitching, wins are going to be few. One had to be concerned going into this season as the returning pitchers didn’t do very well in the 2021 season. Pair that with the fact that the coaching staff did not bring in any new hurlers.
What has happened in the off-season is that seniors Olivia Ferrell (Elkhorn South) and Courtney Wallace (Papillion-La Vista) stepped up, put the work in, and have advanced their game for their last season. Along with number three pitcher, sophomore Kaylin Kinney from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, they have been very solid on the mound this season.
The Cornhuskers currently rank 9th in the Big Ten in team pitching, but with the hitting prowess that has been on display, the pitching staff does not have to dominate or shut teams down. They need to compete and limit big innings. Against Michigan, and in a hard fought series last weekend at Michigan State, they did just that.
Even though Nebraska is on top of the league standings, they have gotten little respect at the national level. Northwestern, a half game back, is currently ranked 10th in the USA Today/NFCA poll. Michigan, who Nebraska took two from in Ann Arbor and are currently 4-5 in conference play, is ranked 22nd. Nebraska received votes in the most recent poll.
Coach Revelle took a little different approach to building the non-conference schedule this year. While Nebraska played against solid competition, they did not play the same gauntlet of highly ranked, traditional powers as they have in recent years. The one game scheduled against a ranked team, Stanford, was cancelled due to weather. However, the team ended up with a 20-9 record and more confidence. That got a tremendous boost when they opened the Big Ten season against perennial power Michigan and got those two big wins.
Nebraska does not play Northwestern, Maryland, or Illinois, the next three teams in the current conference standings. This weekend they host Minnesota for three games at Bowlin Stadium. The Gophers have had powerful teams the past four or five years, making regular appearances in the regional tournament. After that, they spend the next two weekends on the road at Wisconsin and Ohio State before wrapping up the regular season at home against Indiana.
Nebraska has every reason to believe that they can win the Big Ten regular season. They have as complete of a team as they have had for several years. How they fare in the tournament will depend on whether pitching can take another step up.
Can the Cornhuskers make their first regional appearance since 2016?
One would have to believe it is possible the way they are currently playing and as long as they continue to win the series against conference foes.
There is nothing like a nice sunny day at the ballpark. Against Iowa, fans were treated to a 90-degree day and balls hit all over the field by the team in Red. While game two was suspended due to lightning in the area in the sixth inning with Nebraska up 8-6, fans had already seen some very impressive softball. Weekend crowds have been growing in Bowlin Stadium as the temperatures warm up, but there is always room for more.
Get out this weekend and watch them take on the Gophers. It should be a great time!