NEB Softball: NU takes 5-0 record to Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Posted By: Sports
Following a 5-0 opening weekend, the Nebraska softball team begins a difficult stretch of its schedule this weekend, when the Huskers travel to Raleigh, N.C., for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Nebraska will play a pair of games against host North Carolina State and Louisville at Dail Softball Stadium. The Wolfpack (3-2) won an NCAA Regional last season, while Louisville (4-1) won 30 games and advanced to its 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament in 2015. Each of the Huskers’ next eight games are against 2015 NCAA Tournament teams.
Nebraska faces North Carolina State on Friday at 3:30 p.m. (Central). On Saturday, Nebraska takes on Louisville at 11 a.m., followed by a rematch with the Wolfpack at 4 p.m. The Huskers close their stay in Raleigh on Sunday at 9 a.m. vs. Louisville.
Nebraska’s two games with North Carolina State can be seen live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. The live video stream is free to users with a participating cable or satellite provider, and requires the user to log in using the same information they would use to access their television or cable provider account.
All four games this weekend – and every game of the 2016 season – will also feature a free radio broadcast, courtesy of the IMG Husker Sports Network. Fans can listen to Nate Rohr call all of the action for free on Huskers.com.
Wisconsin will also face North Carolina State and Louisville twice this weekend. Overall, there are two ACC teams and two Big Ten teams at four campus sites competing against each other for the inaugural year of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
This Week’s Top 10
- At 5-0, Nebraska is the only undefeated team in the Big Ten Conference.
- Nebraska is playing its first games ever in the state of North Carolina this weekend.
- Beginning this weekend, the Huskers play eight consecutive games against teams that qualified for the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
- Nebraska slugged 11 home runs in five games at the UNI-Dome Classic, while the Huskers allowed only one home run.
- Louisville allowed only five runs in five games last weekend. Each of the top three hitters in the Husker lineup scored five or more runs last week.
- Nebraska has started a season 5-0 for the ninth time in program history.
- The Huskers have won 20 of their last 25 games dating back to April 11 of last season.
- MJ Knighten was named the first Big Ten Player of the Week in 2016 after batting .632 with five homers and 14 RBIs last weekend.
- Cassie McClure was named the first Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in 2016 after throwing 12.0 scoreless innings and going 2-0 with two saves.
- Kiki Stokes leads the Big Ten in on-base percentage (.737) and stolen bases (5), while ranking second in batting average (.615).
About the Big Ten/ACC Challenge
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is in its inaugural year in 2016. The Challenge includes four sites – all hosted by ACC teams – with two ACC teams and two Big Ten teams at each site.
• Nebraska is paired with Big Ten partner Wisconsin and ACC foes North Carolina State and Louisville in the Raleigh site, hosted by NC State.
• The overall record of the four teams in Raleigh is 16-4, the best of any of the four sites. The 9-1 record of Nebraska and Wisconsin is the best mark of any Big Ten tandem, while the 7-3 record of North Carolina State and Louisville is the best of any ACC duo.
Huskers Off to Strong Start
Nebraska won all five of its games the opening weekend, outscoring its opponents, 36-12. The Huskers have started 5-0 for the ninth time in program history. If Nebraska was to go undefeated this weekend, the 9-0 start would be the best in school history.
• Nebraska is the only Big Ten team undefeated after the opening weekend of the season.
• The Huskers are one of eight undefeated teams from a Power Five conference.
Nebraska hit 11 home runs in five games last week at the UNI-Dome Classic, homering in every game and hitting multiple home runs in four of five games.
• Playing indoors was not the primary factor in Nebraska’s home runs surge as the Huskers’ five opponents combined for only 16 home runs in the tournament.
• Nebraska leads the Big Ten with 11 home runs, four more than Michigan (7).
• Nebraska has 11 home runs through five games. The Huskers did not hit their 11th home run last season until their 13th game of the season.
• The Huskers’ 11 home runs are the most home runs through five games in program history. The previous high was nine home runs in 2013.
• MJ Knighten leads the Big Ten with five home runs. Only Michigan and Wisconsin have more than five home runs as a team. Knighten has more hit more home runs herself than the nine of the other 13 Big Ten teams.
• Knighten and Kiki Stokes have combined for seven home runs, which matches Michigan’s team total and exceeds the team total of the other 12 Big Ten teams.
Knighten Off to Blistering Start
MJ Knighten began her junior season with a blistering start at the UNI-Dome Classic last weekend, batting .632 (12-for-19) with one double, five homers and 14 RBIs.
• For her performance, Knighten earned the first Big Ten Player-of-the-Week honor of the 2016 season.
• Knighten had one double, five homers, eight runs and 14 RBIs in five games last weekend. To put those numbers in perspective, Louisville allowed its five opponents last weekend to combine for a total of one double, no home runs, five runs and three RBIs.
• Knighten had four multi-hit efforts in five games, including a trio of three-hit games. She also had four games with multiple RBIs.
• Knighten leads the Big Ten with her five home runs. Outside of Nebraska, only four other Big Ten teams have hit five home runs.
• She also paces the conference with 14 RBIs. Knighten has totaled more RBIs herself than four Big Ten teams, and she has equaled the team total of Michigan State.
• Knighten leads the Big Ten with 12 hits and is the only player in the conference with more than nine hits.
• She also leads the league in batting average and slugging percentage (1.474).
• Knighten homered in each of her first four games and produced at least one extra-base hit in all five games.
• Knighten’s first home run of the season was a game-winning three-run homer in the top of the eighth inning at Northern Iowa last Friday.
• Last Sunday, Knighten went 3-for-3 with two home runs and five RBIs vs. Green Bay, tying her career highs for runs (3), homers and RBIs.
McClure Dominant in Circle
Junior Cassie McClure was dominant in the circle at the season-opening UNI-Dome Classic, posting a 2-0 record with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in 12.0 shutout innings.
• For her efforts, McClure earned the first Big Ten Pitcher-of-the-Week honor of the 2016 season.
• She pitched a total of 12.0 innings and did not allow a run, recording four scoreless outings.
• McClure finished with 16 strikeouts with only one walk.
• McClure allowed only five hits over her four appearances. She held the opponent to one hit in three of her four outings, as opponents hit just .122 against McClure.
• Only six batters reached base in McClure’s 12.0 innings.
• In her lone start against Green Bay, McClure tossed a one-hit shutout. She flirted with a perfect game, allowing only an infield single in Nebraska’s five-inning victory. The shutout was the first of her career.
• McClure added a career-high 10 strikeouts against Green Bay (previous career high was four strikeouts).
Trio of Huskers Near 100-100-100 Club
Seniors Alicia Armstrong and Kiki Stokes and junior MJ Knighten are each on the cusp of joining an elite group of 11 Huskers with 100 career hits, RBIs and runs scored.
• Armstrong enters play this weekend with 185 career hits, 112 runs and 98 RBIs, two shy of the 100 mark.
• Stokes enters play this weekend with 167 career hits, 150 runs and 88 RBIs, 12 shy of the 100 mark.
• Knighten owns 150 career hits, 93 runs and 112 RBIs. She needs seven runs to become only the fourth Husker to reach each milestone before her senior season.
Stokes Posts Big Opening Weekend
Senior All-American Kiki Stokes picked up right where she left off last season with a big opening performance at the UNI-Dome Classic last weekend.
• Stokes hit .615 (8-for-13) at the UNI-Dome Classic with two home runs, four RBIs and five stolen bases.
• She added five walks and one hit-by-pitch to post a .737 on-base percentage.
• Stokes leads the Big Ten in on-base percentage and steals, is second in average and third in home runs.
Early Big Ten Leaders
After one week of play, Nebraska finds itself atop several Big Ten statistical categories. Offensively, Nebraska leads the league in average (.379), hits (53), home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.664). In the circle, the Huskers lead the Big Ten in wins (5) and saves (2), while ranking second in ERA (2.19), opponent batting average (.221) and runs allowed (12).
Scouting North Carolina State (3-2)
North Carolina State came in at No. 25 in the preseason poll, but the Wolfpack fell out of the top 25 following a 3-2 opening weekend. NC State, which began its softball program in 2004, is coming off its most successful season in school history in 2015, when the Wolfpack won an NCAA Regional title for the first time and finished with a final national ranking (No. 19) for the first time.
NC State returns seven starters from last year, including All-ACC performer Tyler Ross, who set a school record with 55 RBIs in 2015. The Wolfpack bring back an additional starter in Hanna Sommer, who started 50 games in 2014 before missing the 2015 season with an injury.
North Carolina State averaged 6.4 runs per game last weekend. Maggie Hawkins was 8-for-16 in the opening weekend with two homers and five RBIs. Ross, the ACC Player of the Week, hit .467 and led the Wolfpack with three homers, eight RBIs and four stolen bases. Meredith Burroughs hit .313 with a team-high two doubles.
In the circle, NC State posted a 5.25 ERA while allowing an average of 5.2 runs per game. The Wolfpack utilized only two pitchers, with Courtney Mirabella posting a 2-0 record with a 4.50 ERA and Harli Hubbard going 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA. Mirabella limited opposing hitters to a .209 average and struck out 28 in only 24.0 innings, but she did walk 10 and allowed five home runs. Hubbard posted the first three decisions of her career last weekend after entering the season with only 3.0 career innings pitched.
North Carolina State lost its top pitcher and hitter from 2015 and arguably the top pitcher and hitter in school history. Emily Weiman was a three-time All-ACC pitcher and the 2013 ACC Pitcher of the Year who set NC State career records for wins (108), appearances (195), starts (167), complete games (128) and innings (1,084.2). As a senior in 2015, Weiman was 31-17 with a 2.47 ERA while throwing more than 70 percent of the team’s innings.
At the plate, Renada Davis was a four-time All-ACC pick and the 2012 ACC Freshman of the Year. She set school career records for average (.356), slugging percentage (.706), on-base percentage (.447), runs (176), doubles (47), home runs (65) and RBIs (155). In 2015, Davis set NC State records with a .385 average, 72 hits and 52 runs.
NC State is coached by Shawn Rychcik, who has led the Wolfpack to a 112-62-1 record in his fourth season. Rychcik owns a career record of 383-221-1 in 12 seasons after leading Boston to a 271-159 record from 2005-12.
Series History vs. NC State
• Nebraska has never faced North Carolina State
• Rhonda Revelle has never faced Shawn Rychcik
Scouting Louisville (4-1)
Louisville joined Nebraska as teams receiving votes in the preseason poll, and the Cardinals garnered more votes this week after going 4-1 in the opening weekend. Louisville faced Iowa twice last weekend, splitting the two games with the Hawkeyes. The Cardinals returned six starters and 12 letterwinners from 2015, when Louisville posted a 30-19 record and finished fourth in the ACC.
The Cardinals were led by a dominant pitching staff in the opening weekend. Louisville allowed only five runs in its five games and did not allow more than five hits in any of its five games. The staff posted a 0.60 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .163 average. Louisville allowed only one extra-base hit in 129 at bats and surrendered just three walks in 137 plate appearances.
Freshman Megan Hensley posted a 3-0 record with a 0.82 last weekend en route to being named the ACC Pitcher of the Week. Maryssa Becker, a 2015 first-team All-ACC selection, went 1-1 with a 0.48 ERA and struck out 17 batters in only 14.2 innings. Madi Norman was the third Cardinal pitcher to take the circle last weekend, and she tossed 3.1 scoreless innings.
Offensively, the Cardinals hit .277 and averaged 5.6 runs per game despite being held to three hits in a shutout loss to Iowa. Becker went 5-for-12 (.417) with three RBIs and five walks, while posting a .611 on-base percentage. Hensley hit .389 (7-for-18) with two of Louisville’s three doubles and one of the Cardinals’ three home runs. Jordan McNary, the Cardinals’ leading returning hitter after batting .352 in 2015, hit .313 in the opening weekend and stole two bases, while Nicole Pufahl batted .294 and led Louisville with two home runs and six RBIs. Brittany Sims was just 1-for-12 last weekend, but the senior posted a .325 batting average with nine doubles in 2015.
The Cardinals had two key losses from 2015. Kelsi Jones led Louisville with a .364 average, 17 doubles and 12 stolen bases in 2015. In the circle, Shelby McCombs was the No. 2 pitcher behind Becker in 2015, compiling a 10-5 record with a 2.87 ERA in 105.0 innings.
Louisville is coached by Sandy Pearsall, who has been the Cardinals’ head coach since the program’s inception in 2000. Pearsall has led Louisville to six conference titles and 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. She owns a 623-316 record in 17 seasons at Louisville. In 30 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Pearsall owns an 873-650 record. Pearsall previously served as the head coach at Miami (Ohio), Colorado State and San Francisco.
Series History vs. Louisville
• Louisville leads the all-time series, 2-1
• The Cardinals won the last meeting, 3-2, in 2008
• All three games have been decided by three runs or less
• Rhonda Revelle is 1-2 vs. Sandy Pearsall