Posted By: Sports
Huskers Head Back to Illinois to Battle Fighting Illini
The 20th-ranked Nebraska softball team travels back to the state of Illinois this week for a three-game Big Ten Conference series against the Illinois Fighting Illini.
The Huskers and Illini will square off at 6 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and Noon on Sunday. Fans can tune into a free radio broadcast on Huskers.com, with veteran softball play-by-play announcer Nate Rohr calling all of the action. Fans with a subscription to the Big Ten Digital Network can watch a live video stream of all three games on BTN.com.
Nebraska brings a 24-11 overall record into play this weekend, including a 3-3 mark in conference action. The Huskers sit in sixth place in the Big Ten standings through the first two weeks of conference play. Nebraska has faced the toughest schedule of any team in league play, taking on a ranked opponent in each of its first six Big Ten games. The Huskers are the only team in the league who has faced a ranked opponent in each of the first two weeks of the conference season, and Nebraska and Minnesota are the only teams to win a Big Ten series against a ranked team thus far.
Overall, the Huskers' schedule was tabbed as the nation's toughest in this week's NCAA RPI. Fueled by the strong schedule, Nebraska was ranked seventh in the RPI, the highest ranking of any Big Ten team. The Huskers have faced 16 top-25 opponents through their first 35 games. Eight of the teams to defeat Nebraska this season are ranked this week, including six teams residing in the top 10.
Illinois is 19-13 overall heading into this weekend. The Fighting Illini are also no stranger to facing top competition, as the three-game series with No. 20 Nebraska will wrap up a stretch of eight ranked opponents in a nine-game span for Illinois. The tough stretch began when Illinois split a doubleheader against 16th-ranked Missouri before being swept by No. 15 Minnesota last weekend in Big Ten play. The three losses to the Golden Gophers dropped Illinois to 1-5 in conference action, as the Fighting Illini opened the Big Ten slate at home, posting a 1-2 record against Iowa in a series that featured a pair of extra-inning games.
NU hopes to move above .500 in Big Ten play for the first time this weekend. The Huskers have played well of late, winning five of their last six games, including a victory over No. 16 Minnesota and a pair of road wins at No. 23 Northwestern. Over the last five games, Nebraska has outscored its opponents by an average of nearly five runs per game. The two road victories at Northwestern last weekend moved Nebraska to 10-2 on the road this season, as the 10 road wins tie for the most of any team in the country.
Scouting the Illinois Fighting Illini (17-13, 1-5 Big Ten)
Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a road victory at Illinois State on Tuesday, and the Fighting Illini bring a 17-13 record into this weekend's series. Illinois is 1-5 in Big Ten play, losing two-of-three games to Iowa in the opening weekend of the conference season, before being swept at No. 15 Minnesota last weekend. Nebraska and Illinois share four common opponents this spring in Creighton, Minnesota, UNO and Tennessee. Nebraska posted a 3-3 record against that group, while Illinois went 2-4.
Illinois is led by a strong offense that boasts a .295 batting average while scoring 5.1 runs per game. But the Illini have struggled in Big Ten play, posting a .231 batting average and scoring only 17 runs in six conference games. Kylie Johnson and Alex Booker are both batting over .400 this spring. Johnson has earned only 17 starts but boasts a .429 average with four doubles, seven RBIs and eight stolen bases. Booker is batting .423 with five doubles, two homers and 10 walks. She has driven in a team-high 21 runs and stolen a team-high 10 bases in 10 attempts. Booker is batting .550 (11-for-20) in conference play. Ruby Rivera owns a .337 average on the season with a team-high 11 doubles. Allie Bauch is hitting .330 on the year with five home runs, 17 RBIs and a team-high 12 walks. Jess Perkins has also homered five times, including slugging two of Illinois' four home runs in conference play.
Defensively, Illinois ranks 15th nationally with a .974 fielding percentage, and the Fighting Illini pitching staff boasts a 3.10 ERA and allows an average of 3.7 runs per game. Freshman Brandi Needham has been a big addition to the Illini staff, throwing more than half of the team's total innings. Needham owns a 12-6 record with a 2.12 ERA in 115.2 innings. She has surrendered 11 home runs, but opponents are hitting only .229 against her. Needham is 1-3 with a 4.60 ERA in conference play, where opponents are hitting .286 against her with six home runs in 91 at bats. Shelese Arnold is 4-6 on the year with a 4.09 ERA in 63.1 innings, although she has seen her workload decrease during Big Ten play. Arnold has walked more batters (33) than she has struck out (27), and she is 0-1 with a 6.18 ERA while throwing only 5.2 innings through Illinois' first six conference games. Jade Vecvanags is 1-1 on the year with a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings. Nearly half of her innings have come in Big Ten play, as Vecvanags is 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA in 11.2 innings during the conference season.
Illinois is led by Terri Sullivan, who owns a 455-329-2 record in 15 seasons at Illinois and as a head coach.
Husker History vs. Illinois
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois, 6-1. The Huskers made their first trip to Champaign-Urbana last season, winning the series 2-1. Nebraska is 5-1 against the Fighting Illini in Big Ten Conference play, while the only non-conference meeting in school history was a 21-1 Husker win at the 2006 NFCA Leadoff Classic. In that victory, Nebraska set a school record with 20 RBIs and the 21 runs scored mark the second-highest total in school history. Six seasons later, the teams met at Bowlin Stadium as conference foes, and the Huskers swept the three-game series by a combined score of 20-2. Overall, NU has averaged 8.7 runs in its seven all-time meetings with Illinois, scoring at least five runs in every meeting but one. Nebraska Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 6-1 in her career against Illinois, including a 6-1 mark against Illinois Head Coach Terri Sullivan.
Last season, inclement weather forced a Saturday doubleheader and both games were close. In game one, Nebraska trailed 2-1 before scoring five times in the top of the seventh inning to claim a 6-2 victory. Taylor Edwards had the decisive blow with a three-run double in the inning, as Edwards finished 1-for-1 with a double, three walks, a hit-by-pitch and four RBIs in the win. Game two went the other way, as Illinois scored three times in the bottom of the sixth inning to rally for a 5-4 victory. Shelese Arnold fired a five-hitter for Illinois and Taylor Edwards smacked a three-run homer for Nebraska.
In the series finale, Nebraska cruised to a 7-1 victory. NU put up three runs in the top of the first and a pair in both the fifth and sixth inning. The Huskers drew 13 walks in the game, while Tatum Edwards tossed a two-hitter.
The information below provides a quick look at a few brief notes heading into Nebraska's three-game Big Ten road series at Illinois this weekend.
Decker Named Big Ten Player of the Week
Sophomore second baseman Hailey Decker celebrated her 20th birthday Monday by being named the Big Ten Player of the Week. The weekly honor was the first of Decker's career.
Decker was chosen as the Big Ten's top offensive performer after an outstanding four games last week. A native of Keizer, Ore., Decker went 9-for-15 (.600) with one double, three homers, nine runs scored and 10 RBIs. She averaged more than two hits, two runs and two RBIs per game, while posting a 1.267 slugging percentage and a .625 on-base percentage. She tied one school record and established career highs in hits, runs and RBIs.
Decker's big week started with a 2-for-4 performance at UNO that included her first career grand slam and a career-high six RBIs, the highest total by a Husker this season. She then accounted for Nebraska's only two runs as part of a 2-for-3 day that included a double and a two-run homer in the Huskers' lone loss at Northwestern. The next day, Decker helped Nebraska defeat Northwestern by tying the school record with four runs scored. She also matched her career high with three hits and stole a base. In the series finale, Decker hit a game-tying home run as part of a 2-for-3 day that included a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored.
Huskers Excelling On the Road Again This Season
Nebraska is 10-2 in true road games this season with wins at New Mexico State, Houston, Oklahoma State (twice), No. 13 Oklahoma, Cal State Fullerton, Kansas, UNO and No. 23 Northwestern (twice). Nebraska's two road losses have both come to ranked opponents (No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 23 Northwestern). The Huskers are off to the second-best road start in school history behind the 2001 squad that finished 12-1 on the road.
Nebraska set a school-record with 17 road victories last season, finishing with a 17-7 record. In the 2013 NCAA Eugene (Ore.) Super Regional, Nebraska snapped Oregon's nation-leading 24-game home winning streak while handing the Ducks their only two home losses of the 2013 season. This season, Nebraska's win at Oklahoma on March 1 snapped the Sooners' 18-game home winning streak.
The Huskers are hitting .322 as a team on the road this season. NU is averaging 6.9 runs per game in its 12 road contests, while allowing just 2.6 runs per game and posting a 2.25 ERA. Individually, senior Taylor Edwards is 16-for-34 (.471) on the road this spring with four doubles, one homer and 12 walks. Freshman Austen Urness is hitting .409 (9-for-22) with a homer and five RBIs, while classmate MJ Knighten owns a .371 average with four doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs. Senior Tatum Edwards has produced three doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in 12 road games, while sophomore Hailey Decker has homered five times and driven in 15 to complement a .409 (18-for-44) road batting average. Overall, eight Huskers have combined to hit 16 home runs through Nebraska's first 12 road games.