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CN Softball Road Trip: Husker Power is Back and It Wears Pinstripes

In a year where the Huskers men’s teams held high hopes, it was a women’s team who hoisted a championship trophy. If the men are smart, they’ll take some notes.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal
If the Big Ten Tournament was a video game, then the Huskers just kept winning all the boss fights without pushing the reset button once.
Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Perhaps a quick re-write to include a couple lines about “rippin’ peas in the right-center gap” or “make ‘em wave at knee-bucklin’ changes”? Admittedly, my future is not in hip-hop lyrics but you get the picture.

A spring which feels like Husker athletics might finally be laying building blocks to turn things around not just the football team but across the board for all sports and both genders, a certain reticence in the fan base is undeniable.

It all sounds good. No one is demanding national titles or else. But for the love of gawd, can we at least start putting up some W’s somewhere?

The guys took their swings. Football showed heart every time out, didn’t back down from one of the toughest schedules in program history, took every Top 10 team down to the wire…and produced the greatest 3-9 team ever. The hoopsters pulled some big upsets, fought fought fought…to another horrid record. Baseball was supposed to be the coming out party with a nucleus back from taking #1 Arkansas to the limit…and good flipping grief, injuries, meltdowns - this was not the team that was supposed to implode.

But first came the lady hoopsters led by frosh legacy Alex Markowski, the irrepressible Aussie Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley and squad of gals who played with fire and joy and fought their way to a national ranking and the NCAA tournament.

But Husker Nation was hungering for a big win.

Well, guess what, last week they got it. In spades. The Husker softball team snuck up on everyone. “These guys are 10-0 in conference?? What’s going on?” “Who’s this Olivia girl on the front page of the OWH sports section twice in the last 2 weeks??” “Wait, are they winning the conference?” “Oh they lost the Wisconsin/Ohio State series. Must have been a mirage” “Oh, wow, still have the 2-seed? Hmmm.”

When I decided to make the trek to East Lansing, MI, for the Big Ten Softball Tournament, the numbers nerd in me dove into both the Husker website stats page and the numerous emails from Kassidy Otteman who handles media communications for the athletic department and provides a wealth of stats and history.

And one number stuck out. 16.

37 wins on the season and 16 were of the come-from-behind variety. In a sport where small ball rules and one baserunner turns an inning into a bunting, stealing, opposite-field hitting, sac-fly popping madhouse to drag that one run across the plate. A little different than trying to make that heroic football comeback in a spread/RPO offensive world.

Day 1, the Huskers faced Bailey Parshall of Penn State. My biggest fear was that Penn State’s weak lineup would gut out an early run and give the All-Big Ten First Teamer a chance to carry them to a 1-0 win. The Huskers pulled out 2 in the 5th.

Next was Ohio State’s 2nd Teamer Lexie Handley. This time, it was Olivia Ferrell, 2nd Team All Conference pitcher herself, driving a deep fly over a cheating in right fielder for the walk-off double winner in the bottom of the 7th.

Following those, watching the Huskers fend off four huge Michigan scoring threats in the title game before finally cracking Alex Storako, another B1G 1st Teamer, in the top of the 8th to bust open a tie game was a surprise to no one. Seriously, we get to be TIED late in the game?? Pffft, fine, bottom of the 7th, here’s a double play with runners on 1st and 2nd with no one out that survives a replay. Pop up. Extra innings. Our turn. No problem.

Two outs. Cam Ybarra who had already ripped a piss missile off Storako for a HR in the top of the first came up in the 8th with Kaitlyn Kinney on 1st and told everyone “Hold my beer and watch this, ladies.” (disclaimer: not really, folks, just some poetic license. They do NOT drink beer in the Husker dugout. Settle down.)

Whap. Double in the gap to the fence. 2-1.

Sydney Gray - “Really? Well, I’m just gonna try and drive one right through that left fielder, then.”

Whap. Sharp shot to left bobbled, Ybarra scores. 3-1.

Bottom of the 8th, 1-2-3, Ladies and gentlemen! Your Big Ten Champions! And the crowd goes wild- (Whoops, since everyone in attendance with the exception of the friends and family behind the Husker dugout was wearing blue and yellow, Secchia Stadium basically looked like a toilet emptying as the Husker celebration hit its crescendo.)

It’s impossible to point to one thing or player that has made the 2022 season special, but rather this is a team which is truly the sum of its parts. In Head Coach Rhonda Revelle and Associate Head Coach Lori Sippel, the Huskers have a pair who have been with the program 30 and 33 years respectively - 37 of the last 38 for Sippel if her playing days are included. The lineup and rotation are about 50/50 seniors and underclassmen. Where most teams look for one big arm on the mound with whom to ride or die, Courtney Wallace and Liv Ferrell instead provide a 1-2 punch with both happy to start or finish. In many situations, that make-up could get sticky, but the senior co-captains are both team first and ready whenever they get their chance.

The men’s teams could do worse than to spend a little time around these ladies and get an up close look at a team which has talent, confidence, a joyful vibe, the X-factor and the unshakable belief they’re never out of it.

Maybe they learn something and maybe the magic is infectious or rubs off. But if nothing else, maybe they just enjoy watching a damn good team compete their collective asses off and look like they’re having the time of their life doing it. Not exactly a bad consolation prize.

The Stillwater regional is led by Okie State with the #7 RPI while Nebraska is #28. (Northwestern ended up #11 and hosting a regional and Michigan finished at #21, but the Huskers won’t cry too much while they shine their trophy.) Should the Cowgirls and Huskers meet, OSU will be a heavy favorite.

And that’s just fine with the Huskers.

Why the Huskers Will Win the Stillwater Regional:

  • The aforementioned 1-2 punch on the mound. Wallace and Ferrell won’t overpower you, but they have great control, battle hard in big at bats and force batters to put balls in play the defense can make quick work of.
  • The batting order is deadly. Led by Billie Andrews, they topped the Big Ten in nearly every offensive category, swing heavy bats and are always one cut away from wreaking havoc.
  • Offensively, defensively and on the mound, they just don’t give an inch. They dug in and escaped trouble repeatedly against the higher-ranked Wolverines and when the dust cleared, they had finished 3-0 against them on the season.

Why The Might Not:

  • Don’t sleep on North Texas State which won the Conference USA tournament. Confidence is good. Cocky wouldn’t be against a team which is on a similar roll.
  • Oklahoma St. is really, really good. Also, they’re 18-1 at Cowgirl Stadium this season.

When you win a conference tournament, of course there’s a whole ‘nuther slew of awards to hand out.

Big Ten Championship Husker Honorees

All Big Ten Tournament Team

1B Mya Felder

2B Cam Ybarra

P Olivia Ferrell

P Courtney Wallace

Big Ten Tournament Outstanding Player

Cam Ybarra

Andy Ketterson

Stillwater Regional Full Schedule

Friday May 20

Game 1: 5:00pm - North Texas (35-14) vs. Nebraska (40-14)

Game 2: 7:30pm - Fordham (30-20) vs. Oklahoma St (41-12)

Saturday May 21

Game 3: 1:00pm - Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner

Game 4: 3:30pm - Game 1 loser vs Game 2 loser

Game 5: 8:00pm - Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner

Sunday May 22

Game 6: 3:00pm - Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner

Game 7: (if needed) - 5:30pm - same teams

Final Random Thoughts on 5 Days in East Lansing and the Road To & From

(In other words, I had some unused notes I probably should’ve squeezed in articles somewhere last week. Call this last section “somewhere”.)

  • When Michigan coach Carol Hutchins and Revelle met at home plate, the warmth between the two seemed very genuine. I did confirm they have been good friends for many years.
  • I guess I had always noticed but never heard announced that current/former military may leave their caps on during the National Anthem while they salute. Unwritten rules also appear to apply for women with visors or baseball caps where they have worked hard to hang that ponytail just right.
  • There also is an exception for Michigan fans with Julius Peppers jerseys and Mexican wrestling masks.
  • I mentioned running into some Ohio St. players in my Savannah Bananas jersey. That thing is definitely a conversation starter. The Bananas are a national phenomenon.
  • The strike zone in softball can look VERY wide at times. But as was pointed out to me, just any part of that ball has to cross the plate for it to be a strike, not the whole thing. Set a softball down with just a bit over the outside edge of the plate and it’s halfway to the batter’s box chalk.
  • Which led to Ferrell and the home plate ump on Saturday driving the Michigan people absolutely bonkers as she worked the corners. The ump would pause about a half-second before making his calls and watching those highly entitled Wolverine fans spend that pause on the edge, then lose their collective minds as another strike was called was high comedy all day.
  • Apparently, the gals are much more mentally tough than the guys when it comes to having feelings hurt when an opponent dares to show joy after say a strikeout or home run. For example, many pitchers take a few steps to plate and just scream with joy with the catcher after a K - and man, in a major league game, batters would be ducking for the next 3 innings if that happened.
  • Coach Revelle suggested in an OWH article Thursday the Okie State fans might get a little oiled and show up making some noise for a North Texas upset. Quote: “The left fielder’s gonna get it,” Revelle said. “They have their party planks there, and I think they probably sell alcohol. I told (outfielder) Abby Squire — she’s the one that’s gonna get the most (taunts) — you need some good one-liners to give him back.”
    Haha - I love it. Basically, “Bring it on & we’ll throw some at you.”
  • Winning that regional and bouncing highly favored Oklahoma State will be hard. But Jimmy Dugan has that covered:

(Many thanks to Kassidy Otteman for keeping the stats coming and Associate Communications Director Matt Smith for helping me a out with a few of the finer points of the game. These two definitely made me sound like I know more about the game than I do.)

Nebraska Cornhuskers

North Texas State