NEB Softball: Huskers host top-ranked Michigan this weekend

Posted By: Sports

sports@klkntv.com

The Nebraska softball team hopes for a historic weekend when the Huskers host the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines in a three-game series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Bowlin Stadium.

Friday’s series opener will mark the first time Nebraska has ever played a No. 1 team at home. In addition to trying to pick up the third win over a No. 1 team in school history, the Huskers will be looking to set an attendance record on Saturday, when Nebraska hosts the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate.

The tailgate begins and 10 a.m. and features a Ferris wheel, inflatables, face painting, a balloon artist, live music and more. Admission into the tailgate and the softball game at 1 p.m. is free, and the first 2,000 fans will receive a free hot dog, bag of chips and a Pepsi product.
The Huskers are hoping for the highest attendance in school history on Saturday as they look to exceed the 2,204 fans who came out to the 2014 World’s Largest Softball Tailgate.

The three-game series wraps up on Sunday at Noon. The Big Ten Network will televise the Friday and Sunday games live, with Dean Linke calling all of the action and Carol Bruggeman adding expert analysis. All three games of the series can also be heard for free on Huskers.com, with Nate Rohr on the call for the Husker Sports Network.

Michigan (27-3) leads the Big Ten with 27 wins this season, while Nebraska (24-12) is tied for second with 24 victories. The Wolverines (5-1) are tied with Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten standings, while Nebraska (5-3) sits in fifth place.

This Week’s Top 10

  1. Nebraska is hosting the No. 1 team for the first time in program history and facing a top-ranked opponent in conference play for the first time.
  2. Friday’s game with Michigan will mark Nebraska’s 100th Big Ten Conference game.
  3. The World’s Largest Softball Tailgate is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. Fans can get in free to both the tailgate and the softball game at 1 p.m.
  4. Michigan leads the Big Ten with 27 wins, while Nebraska is tied for second with 24 victories.
  5. The Wolverines own the Big Ten’s longest conference win streak with five straight league victories, outscoring their opponents 53-15 in those five wins.
  6. The Huskers rank second in the Big Ten with a four-game conference win streak, outscoring their opponents 49-12 in those four victories.
  7. Michigan won the 2015 Big Ten Tournament with a 6-1 championship game victory over Nebraska.
  8. Carol Hutchins (1,436) and Rhonda Revelle (902) have combined for 2,338 wins at Michigan and Nebraska, respectively. The other 12 Big Ten coaches have combined for 2,322 wins at their respective Big Ten schools.
  9. Nebraska had used 34 different starting lineups and 34 different batting orders before using a repeat lineup and order in game one Wednesday.
  10. Nebraska owns five walk-off wins this season.

Series Storylines
Hall of Fame Friends: Nebraska Coach Rhonda Revelle and Michigan Coach Carol Hutchins face each other this weekend in a battle of hall-of-fame coaches. Revelle and Hutchins, who are good friends, are two of 14 active Division I coaches enshrined in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame.

Coaching Milestones: Revelle and Hutchins both celebrated milestone victories last weekend. Hutchins notched her 1,458th career victory last Saturday to become the all-time wins leader in NCAA history, and Revelle earned her 900th victory at Nebraska last Sunday. Revelle and Hutchins are two of only 12 active coaches with 900 wins at their current school.

Nebraska the Nemesis: Nebraska leads the all-time series with Michigan, 9-8, including a 2-1 edge in Big Ten Conference play. Nebraska is the only Big Ten school with a winning record against Michigan and Husker Coach Rhonda Revelle is the only current Big Ten coach with a winning record vs. the Wolverines (8-5). Revelle is also the only current Big Ten coach with a winning record against Michigan Coach Carol Hutchins (8-5).

Big Ten’s Best: Since the Huskers joined the Big Ten Conference in 2012, Michigan (82) and Nebraska (70) rank first and second, respectively, in conference wins. In 2013, Nebraska handed Michigan its only conference series loss in a year where both teams made it to the Women’s College World Series. The next year, Nebraska won 15 of its final 16 league games to share the Big Ten regular-season title with the Wolverines. Last season, Nebraska and Michigan met in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament, with the Wolverines winning the title by a score of 6-1.

Home Run Derby: Both Nebraska and Michigan rank in the top 10 nationally in home runs. The Wolverines rank seventh nationally in home runs (50) and the Huskers rank eighth nationally in home runs (47). In home runs per game, Michigan ranks second and Nebraska is 10th.

All-America Table Setters: Nebraska’s Kiki Stokes and Michigan’s Sierra Lawrence are similar players at the top of their respective batting orders. Both center fielders earned third-team All-America accolades in 2015, and both excel at getting on base for the RBI producers behind them. Stokes ranks 18th in runs per game (1.2) and 23rd nationally in on-base percentage (.545), while Lawrence is third nationally in runs per game (1.4) and 12th in on-base percentage (.560).

Terrific Two-Hole Hitters: Behind Stokes and Lawrence are two of the top run producers in the country. MJ Knighten bats behind Stokes in the Husker lineup, and Knighten is tied for the national lead with 17 home runs, and she ranks ninth in RBIs (46) and 10th in slugging percentage (.903). Three-time All-American Sierra Romero hits behind Lawrence in the Wolverine lineup and ranks fourth nationally in slugging (1.023), second in RBIs (52) and 22nd in home runs (11), while leading the country in RBIs per game (1.7). Romero is also the nation’s active career leader in home runs (74) and RBIs (278). Romero and Knighten rank first and second, respectively, in the Big Ten in RBIs and slugging percentage, while Knighten leads the Big Ten in home runs and Romero is third.

Leading Off…

  • Nebraska scored 44 runs in its three-game series at Maryland last weekend, the most runs NU has ever scored in a conference series (previous record was 36 runs in a three-game sweep of Michigan State in 2015).
  • The Huskers are 23-2 this season when holding the opponent to five runs or less.
  • Nebraska has scored first in seven of its last nine games. In the first 27 games this season, the Huskers scored first only seven times.
  • Nebraska ranks second in the Big Ten in runs (222), hits (312), RBIs (211), doubles (53) and home runs (47).
  • NU leads the Big Ten in saves (6) and ranks second in wins (24).
  • The Huskers rank in the top 30 nationally in home runs (8th), home runs per game (10th), slugging percentage (20th), scoring (27th) and on-base percentage (29th).

Husker Quick Hits

  • Mattie Fowler has produced at least one RBI in eight of her last 10 games and 12 of her last 15.
  • Kaylan Jablonski is 9-0 in the month of April in her career, including 3-0 this season. Jablonski has earned the victory in three of Nebraska’s four wins this month.
  • Jablonski ranks third in the conference with a 2.00 ERA in Big Ten play. In conference play, Jablonski is 3-0 this season and 8-2 in her Big Ten career.
  • MJ Knighten is one of four players tied for the national lead with 17 home runs. She also ranks in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game (5th), RBIs (9th) and slugging percentage (10th).
  • Knighten has hit five home runs in Nebraska’s seven home games this season.
  • Knighten is hitting .407 and has had a season batting average above .400 at the end of 69 consecutive games dating back to March 21, 2015.
  • Knighten owns a .410 career batting average in Big Ten play while totaling 71 hits and 61 RBIs in only 54 career Big Ten Conference games.
  • Knighten is one of only 17 players nationally who are averaging more than one hit, run and RBI per game.
  • Cassie McClure leads the Big Ten with five saves and is tied for third in wins (13).
  • McClure is one of only three pitchers nationally with at least 10 wins and five saves. She is also one of only six pitchers to rank in the top 50 nationally in victories and saves.
  • Senior Kiki Stokes is one of only nine active players nationally who has totaled 150 career hits, 150 runs and 50 stolen bases.
  • Stokes has reached base safely in 17 consecutive games. During the streak, Stokes is batting .453 (24-for-53) with a .575 on-base percentage. She has totaled six doubles, three triples, one homer, 25 runs, 12 RBIs, 14 walks and seven stolen bases during the streak.

Scouting Michigan (27-3, 5-1 Big Ten)
Michigan, the 2015 NCAA runner-up, is 27-3 overall and ranks fourth nationally with a .900 winning percentage. The Wolverines lost their Big Ten opener but have won their last five league games and 16 of their last 17 games overall. Michigan moved up to No. 1 this week after being ranked second in each of the first eight polls.

Wolverine Offense
Michigan boasts one of the nation’s top offenses, as the Wolverines lead the country in scoring (9.1 runs per game) and on-base percentage (.472), while ranking third in home runs per game (1.7) and slugging percentage (.617) and fifth in batting average (.353). Michigan has tallied double-digit runs 16 times this season, including five of its six Big Ten games. The Wolverines are averaging 10.8 runs per game in conference play.

Michigan is led by three-time All-American Sierra Romero. Romero leads the country in RBIs per game (1.7) and runs per game (1.6), while ranking second in batting average (.523), on-base percentage (.626) and RBIs (52). Romero is also the nation’s active career leader with 274 runs, 278 RBIs, 200 walks and 74 home runs, while her .450 average ranks second.

Romero is joined in the Wolverine lineup by fellow All-Americans Sierra Lawrence and Kelly Christner. Lawrence is hitting .417 this spring with five homers and 23 RBIs, including 10 in Big Ten play. Christner is batting .315 with four homers and 19 RBIs. Terra Blanco is second on the team with a .438 average, and she has added 38 RBIs. Kelsey Susalla has hit eight home runs and driven in 38, while Lindsay Montemarano has also hit eight home runs, including five in league play.

Wolverine Defense
Michigan leads the Big Ten and ranks 46th nationally with a 2.73 ERA, and the Wolverines are eighth nationally with a .977 fielding percentage. Opponents are hitting just .209 against Michigan while averaging 2.9 runs per game.

The Wolverines are led by 2015 All-American Megan Betsa. Betsa is 12-2 on the season with a 2.73 ERA. She has struck out 133 batters in only 77.0 innings, and opponents are hitting just .178 against her. Sara Driesenga has logged the most innings for Michigan, compiling a perfect 13-0 record with a 2.75 ERA in 81.1 innings. Tera Blanco (2-1, 2.49 ERA in 25.1 IP) and Leah Crockett (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 1.0 IP) round out the Wolverine staff.

Wolverine Coaching Staff
NFCA Hall of Fame coach Carol Hutchins is in her 32nd season with the Wolverines. Hutchins owns a 1,436-463-4 record at Michigan and a 1,459-474-4 career record. She became the all-time wins leader in NCAA softball history last Saturday in Michigan’s 8-0 victory at Indiana.

Bonnie Thull is Michigan’s associate head coach and Jennifer Bundage is the Wolverine’s assistant coach.

Series History
Nebraska and Michigan have met 17 times, including 13 matchups before the Huskers joined the Big Ten Conference. Nebraska leads the all-time series 9-8. NU was just 1-3 against Michigan before Rhonda Revelle returned to her alma mater in 1993 but Nebraska is 8-5 vs. Michigan under Revelle.

The Huskers and Wolverines have met only once in Big Ten play. Nebraska won the lone conference series between the programs, 2-1, in 2013 at Bowlin Stadium in a year when both teams advanced to the Women’s College World Series. Michigan won the most recent meeting however, defeating the Huskers 6-1 in the championship game of the 2015 Big Ten Tournament.

Nebraska is the only Big Ten team with a winning record against Michigan and Revelle is the lone current Big Ten coach with a winning record vs. the Wolverines and Michigan Coach Carol Hutchins.