Husker softball team begins long road trip at Iowa this weekend

The Nebraska softball team begins an eight-game road trip this weekend when the Huskers travel to Iowa City for a three-game series with the Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday and Saturday. Saturday's doubleheader is set to begin at 2 p.m. and Sunday's finale is slated for a 3 p.m. first pitch, and the game will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network.

Eric Collins will call the action for BTN on Sunday, with former Michigan All-American Jennie Ritter adding color commentary. In addition to Sunday's television broadcast, fans can listen to Nate Rohr provide radio coverage of all three games this weekend for Huskers.com.

Nebraska's upcoming stretch of eight consecutive road games marks the longest streak of road games in school history. NU also played eight straight road games in March of last season, posting a 6-2 record on a trip that included a 3-1 series win at New Mexico State, a doubleheader sweep at UTEP and a two-game series split to open the Big 12 Conference season at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Nebraska hopes to have similar success this season as it continues to position itself for a chance to win the Big Ten championship. The Huskers enter this weekend's series with a 25-14 overall record and a 7-2 mark in conference action. Nebraska is tied for second in the Big Ten standings, one game behind league-leading Michigan (8-1). The Huskers are off to their best start to a conference season since opening the 2004 Big 12 season with a 10-0 record. Nebraska went on to win both the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles that season, marking the last time the Huskers claimed a conference title.

The Huskers' hopes of a Big Ten championship in their first season in the league would be strengthened with a strong road trip. After traveling to Iowa this weekend and to Ohio State the following weekend, Nebraska plays two of its final three Big Ten series at home. That could mean good new for the Huskers, who are a perfect 11-0 at home this season. Nebraska remained unbeaten at Bowlin Stadium and won its 14th straight home game on Wednesday with a 3-0 victory over Iowa.

Senior right-hander Ashley Hagemann, the reigning Big Ten co-Pitcher of the Week, fired a one-hit shutout and tied her season high with 14 strikeouts against Creighton on Wednesday. Hagemann has been dominant in the circle since allowing a career-high 13 runs in game one of a doubleheader at Minnesota on March 31. Hagemann has made five appearances since that loss, posting a 4-0 record with a 0.51 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. In her three starts since that loss, Hagemann has tossed a pair of shutouts, a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter, while compiling a 0.35 ERA.

Scouting the Iowa Hawkeyes (15-20, 5-4 Big Ten)
Iowa enters this weekend's three-game series with a 15-20 overall record, including a 5-4 mark in Big Ten Conference play after losing two of three games at Northwestern last weekend. The Huskers and Hawkeyes share seven common opponents this season in Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Washington. Nebraska posted an 8-4 record against that group, including a 6-0 record against conference opponents. Iowa went 5-7 against that group, including a 4-2 record against Big Ten foes. Iowa is 4-3 at home this season, including a three-game sweep of Illinois two weeks ago.

Iowa is led by its pitching staff, as the Hawkeyes' 2.45 ERA ranks third in the Big Ten Conference. Iowa is allowing 3.3 runs per game and boasts a .963 fielding percentage that also ranks third in the conference. Offensively, Iowa is hitting .252 as a team with 12 home runs, while averaging 4.0 runs per game. The Hawkeyes rank 10th in the league in batting average and runs scored and 11th in home runs. In conference play, Iowa's defense has remained steady, posting a 2.67 ERA and a .969 fielding percentage. But the Hawkeyes' offense has been at its best in Big Ten play, posting a .266 batting average with five home runs and 40 runs scored. In conference-only games, Iowa ranks seventh in home runs and eighth in average and runs scored.

Individually, freshman Megan Blank leads the team with a .412 batting average that ranks third among all Big Ten players. Blank also ranks third in the conference with a .525 on-base percentage and fifth with a .639 slugging percentage. She leads the Hawkeyes with 40 hits, 11 doubles, four triples and 21 walks against only nine strikeouts. Senior Katie Keim is the only other Hawkeye hitting above .300, as she is batting .330 on the year with team-high totals of 22 runs scored, five home runs, 28 RBIs and six stolen bases. In conference games, Blank is hitting .417 with two doubles, three triples and seven RBIs. Keim is third on the team with a .333 average in conference play, and leads the Hawkeyes with three doubles, two home runs, 10 RBIs and eight runs. Junior Johnnie Dowling is hitting .355 in league play, compared to a .253 average in non-conference play.

In the circle, Iowa has primarily relied on the right-handed tandem of Chelsea Lyon and Kayla Massey. Lyon is 8-11 on the year with a 2.33 ERA in 117.0 innings, while Massey is 7-9 with a 2.57 ERA in 111.2 innings. Lyon ranks fourth in the Big Ten in ERA, while Massey is seventh. Lyon leads the team in appearances (21), starts (19) and shutouts (4), while both pitchers have tossed 14 complete games. Massey has struck out a team-high 78 batters, but she has surrendered 14 home runs. In Big Ten play,  Lyon has started six of Iowa's nine games, posting a 3-3 record with a 2.08 ERA. Massey is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA in league play.

Iowa is led by second-year head coach Marla Looper, who owns a 43-44 record at Iowa.

Series History
The all-time series between Nebraska and Iowa is tied 8-8. Each of the last five meetings between the teams have come in an NCAA Regional, as the programs are facing each other for the first time in the regular season since a 1-0 Iowa win in 1999. The last time the teams faced each other overall was a 1-0, 10-inning Husker win in a first-round matchup at the 2006 Iowa City Regional. Previously, the teams met twice at the 2005 Lincoln Regional, with the Huskers winning the first-round matchup, but then losing an elimination game to Iowa the next day. In 2003, Iowa also eliminated Nebraska from its home regional with a 2-1 victory in the semifinals of the eight-team regional. The year before, the Huskers defeated Iowa en route to capturing the Iowa City Regional championship and a berth in the 2002 Women's College World Series.

Nebraska is 4-2 against Iowa in the postseason, but the Hawkeyes lead the series 6-4 in the regular season. Nebraska owns a 3-2 series edge in Iowa City after winning the last two games at Bob Pearl Field. Husker Head Coach Rhonda Revelle is 5-5 in her career against Iowa, including a 3-2 mark in regular-season meetings. Included in that record is a 15-1, five-inning loss the Huskers suffered to the Hawkeyes on March 22, 1997. That loss is the worst defeat in Nebraska history and the 15 runs are the most the Huskers have ever allowed.

Quick Hitters
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few statistics and brief notes of interest as the Huskers head to Iowa for a three-game series this weekend.

  • Nebraska is 5-0 this month and owns an all-time record of 472-229 (.673) in the month of April.
  • The Huskers are 3-5 on the road this season, including 1-2 in Big Ten play. Overall, Nebraska has lost five of its last six road games.
  • Nebraska is 1-0 on the Big Ten Network this season, winning a 5-4, eight-inning game at Minnesota on April 1.
  • Nebraska is ranked 49th in this week's NCAA RPI, the third-highest ranking of any Big Ten team.
  • The Huskers have committed 50 errors and allowed 34 unearned runs through 39 games this season. In 55 games last year, Nebraska committed 43 errors and allowed only 14 unearned runs. 
  • NU has allowed 140 runs through 39 games this season, after allowing 116 runs in 55 games last season.
  • The Huskers have scored 61 runs through their first nine conference games this season, after scoring 59 total runs through their 18-game Big 12 schedule last season.
  • Fifty of the 140 runners who have scored against NU this season reached base by a walk or hit-by-pitch.
  • Overall, batters who have walked or been hit by a pitch score an average of 1.3 runs per game this season.
  • Nebraska has walked 142 batters this season, committed an error that allowed a hitter to reach base 37 times and hit 31 batters. Combining those totals equals 210 base runners, which is higher than the number of hits the Huskers have allowed this season (197).
  • Between the walks, hit batters and errors, NU is “giving” the opponent an average of 5.4 base runners per game.
  • Taylor Edwards enters the weekend series with 99 career RBIs.
  • Ashley Hagemann needs eight strikeouts this weekend to become the third Husker with 900 career strikeouts.
  • First-year volunteer coach Katie Brown returns to her alma mater this weekend. Brown earned her degree at Iowa in May of 2011 following a stellar four-year career with the Hawkeyes. Brown started 175 games at Iowa from 2007 to 2010 and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection.

Huskers Hitting Well in Conference Play
Through three weekends of Big Ten Conference play, the Husker hitters have put up impressive numbers. Although Nebraska is batting only .277 as a team in conference play, the Huskers lead the league with 44 walks, rank second with 61 runs scored, third with 16 doubles, fourth with eight home runs and a .459 slugging percentage and fifth with a .396 on-base percentage. Through only nine games, Nebraska has already surpassed its totals from last season's entire 18-game Big 12 Conference schedule.

The Huskers scored 59 runs in 18 Big 12 games in 2011, and this year Nebraska has scored 61 runs through its first nine Big Ten games. The Huskers have also doubled 16 times this season after totaling 12 doubles during last year's conference slate. Nebraska also needs only four RBIs this weekend to match last year's conference total. The Huskers are hitting .065 points better in conference play this season than last, while improving their slugging percentage .094 points and their on-base percentage .014. Most importantly, Nebraska is averaging 6.8 runs per game in conference-only games this season, after averaging 3.3 runs per game in Big 12 play last season. The Huskers have scored at least five runs in eight of their first nine Big Ten games this season, after scoring five runs only four times in 18 Big 12 games a season ago.

Individually, several Huskers have eclipsed team highs from last year's Big 12 schedule. No Husker had more than two doubles in Big 12 play in 2011, but this season, junior Gabby Banda (6) and sophomore Tatum Edwards (4) have both eclipsed that total through the first nine Big Ten Conference games. Taylor Edwards led Nebraska with 12 RBIs in conference play last season, but junior Brooke Thomason has already driven in 15 runs in conference play this spring. Taylor Edwards also walked a team-leading 14 times in Big 12 games last season, and she has nearly matched that total with 13 walks through nine Big Ten games this year. Nebraska also failed to record a triple in any of its 18 Big 12 games last season, but seniors Madison Drake and Nikki Haget have each recorded a triple in a Big Ten game this season.

Limiting Walks Key to Husker Pitching Success
Nebraska's pitching staff has struggled with walks this season, as the Huskers have walked 142 batters, the third-highest total in the Big Ten. NU is averaging 4.1 walks per seven innings this season. Nebraska is 19-6 on the year when allowing four walks or fewer, and the staff owns a 1.45 ERA in those 25 games. But when allowing five or more walks, Nebraska is just 5-9 with a 5.50 ERA.

Nebraska has allowed one earned run or less in 21 of its 25 games where it allowed four or fewer walks, including eight shutouts. Contrastly, the Huskers have allowed at least four runs in 13 of their 14 games when they've walked five or more batters. Nebraska is allowing an average of 2.0 runs per game when it walks less than five batters and 6.4 runs per game when it walks five or more batters.