NEB Softball: Ranked Foes Await NU at ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted By: Sports

sports@klkntv.com

Courtesy: UNL Media Relations

LINCOLN – The Nebraska softball team travels to Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend to participate in the 2017 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Huskers will be joined in Tallahassee by Big Ten counterpart Northwestern and ACC foes Florida State and Pittsburgh. NU will take on No. 24 Pittsburgh on Friday at 3 p.m. (Central) and Saturday at 10 a.m. (Central) before facing the third-ranked Seminoles at 3 p.m. (Central) on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. (Central) on Sunday.

Both games against Florida State will be televised by the ACC Network Extra, which is an internet-only stream available to cable and satellite subscribers with access to ESPN3. Fans can also listen to all four games for free on Huskers.com, as Nate Rohr will call of the action for the IMG Husker Sports Network.
Tallahassee is one of four sites where two ACC and two Big Ten teams will face each team from the opposing conference twice. A total of 32 games will be played between the two conferences as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Big Ten won the inaugural challenge last season, 20-12.

After opening the season with four losses to teams currently ranked in the top 25, Nebraska’s schedule does not get any easier this week. The Huskers open the weekend with two games against No. 24 Pittsburgh, then closes the weekend with two road games at No. 3 Florida State. NU is in the midst of a seven-game stretch against ranked opponents.

Each of Nebraska’s first eight games are against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including five vs. top-10 teams and four against top-three foes.

This Week’s Top 10

1. Nebraska is the only team in the country who has played four games against teams ranked in this week’s NFCA top-25 poll.

2. Including this weekend, Nebraska’s first eight games are all against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including five games vs. top-10 teams and four matchups vs. top-three foes.

3. The Huskers are in the midst of seven consecutive games against ranked opponents, which ties for the longest streak in school history.

4. The Big Ten won the inaugural ACC/Big Ten Challenge in 2016 by a total of 20-12.

5. NU went 3-1 at the 2016 ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the second-best record of any of the 16 teams.

6. Nebraska’s two opponents this weekend are a combined 10-0 heading into Florida State’s Wednesday home game vs. Florida A&M.

7. No. 1 Florida State (35-3) and No. 24 Pittsburgh (26-9) have outscored their opponents 61-12.

8. The last time Nebraska started 0-4 was in 1997. That season, the Huskers started 3-7 but ended the year with a ninth-place NCAA Finish.

9. Sixteen Huskers earned at least one start last week at the Puerto Vallarta College Classic, including all 15 non-pitchers who were available for action.

10. MJ Knighten enters this week needing to score two runs to become the third Husker to total 150 career hits, 150 career runs and 150 career RBIs.

Positives From Puerto Vallarta

Nebraska may have started the season 0-4, but there were flashes of the Huskers’ potential on display throughout the Puerto Vallarta College Classic. The positive signs were especially encouraging considering all four teams NU faced last week are currently ranked (No. 2 Auburn, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 8 Washington and No. 25 BYU).

• Nebraska’s pitching staff shined on the second day of the season, when the Huskers faced No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Auburn, the two teams who played for the 2016 national championship.

• In those two games, the Huskers allowed only two earned runs and just one extra-base hit in 14.0 innings, posting a 1.00 ERA against the top two teams in the preseason poll. The effort came against an Auburn offense that led the country in scoring in 2016 and an Oklahoma offense that ranked 13th in scoring a season ago.

• Against the defending national champion and top-ranked Sooners, freshman Sydney McLeod and junior Kaylan Jablonski combined to limit Oklahoma to one earned run on six hits.

• Against Auburn, senior Cassie McClure allowed only one earned run in a complete-game effort, despite six walks.

• In its final two games of the weekend, Nebraska led both No. 2 Auburn and No. 13 Washington. The Huskers also had the tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Tigers and the tying runs on base in the top of the seventh inning against Washington.

• Offensively, Nebraska faced the opponent’s ace in three of its four games last week, giving the Huskers an early look at some of the best pitching it will face this season.

• The Huskers hit well against Washington ace Taran Alvelo, who went 3-0 and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

• Nebraska tagged Alvelo for three runs (two earned) on five hits in her 6.0 innings of work against the Huskers. In her other two appearances of the tournament – vs. No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Auburn – Alvelo allowed only one run in 17.0 innings.

• Alvelo allowed more runs and earned runs in her 6.0 innings against Nebraska than she did in her two complete-game efforts against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Auburn combined. Alvelo also posted 15 combined strikeouts against Auburn and Oklahoma, while Nebraska struck out only once against Alvelo.

All Hands on Deck

Nebraska not only had the opportunity to measure itself against some of the nation’s best teams at the season-opening Puerto Vallarta College Classic, the Huskers also had a chance to give nearly every player on the roster not only the opportunity to play, but the chance to make their case for a starting position.

• Nebraska had 15 position players (including designated player) available for the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, and all 15 players earned at least one start.

•Overall, including pitchers, 16 of Nebraska’s 18 available players earned at least one start last week while 17 Huskers appeared in at least one game.
• Not only did 16 Huskers earn a start in Nebraska’s four games at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, 13 players started multiple games.

• All six of Nebraska’s freshmen who were in uniform last weekend earned at least one start: Rindy Bryant (3 starts at SS); Haley Donaldson (1 start at 2B); Tristen Edwards (3 starts in RF); Lexey Kneib (1 start at SS); Sydney McLeod (1 start at P); and Alexis Perry (2 starts at 1B).

Making the Most of Your Opportunity

Not only did 16 of Nebraska’s 18 available position players earn a start last week, several Huskers made a strong case for a starting spot after sitting the first two games.

• Senior Lotte Sjulin did not play in Nebraska’s first two games of the season before being called upon to start the final two games at first base. Making her first career starts on the infield, Sjulin responded with her third career hit vs. No. 2 Auburn, and she fielded 13 of her 14 chances defensively.

• Junior Gina Metzler also did not start the first two games of the season before getting her chance with a start in center field against No. 2 Auburn. Metzler went 2-for-3 with a double against the Tigers, marking her fourth career multi-hit game and second career double. Metzler started again the next day vs. No. 13 Washington and went 1-for-3 with a run scored.

• Sophomore Alyvia Simmons sat out the first two games of the Puerto Vallarta College Classic before starting the final two games against No. 2 Auburn and 13th-ranked Washington. Simmons went 2-for-3 with an RBI against the Tigers before going 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI against the Huskies.

• Freshman Haley Donaldson came off the bench to play second base against No. 2 Auburn in the third game of the season and went 1-for-2 with an RBI. That earned Donaldson her first career start the next day, and she responded with a 1-for-3 effort vs. No. 13 Washington that included an RBI.

• Junior Caitlin Bartsch and freshman Sydney McLeod both took advantages of opportunities in the circle. Bartsch was the third reliever Nebraska used in the season opener against BYU, and she delivered a scoreless fourth inning to mark the only inning BYU did not score. McLeod earned the start vs. No. 1 Oklahoma and did not allow an earned run in 2.0 innings of work.

Six Freshmen Make Debuts

Six Husker freshmen made their collegiate debuts last week, with all six earning at least one start.

• Haley Donaldson earned two starts and went 2-for-6 offensively with a pair of RBIs.

• Rindy Bryant started three games at shortstop and produced a single against No. 13 Washington.

• Tristen Edwards started three games and scored a run vs. the 13th-ranked Huskies.

• Lexey Kneib earned the start at shortstop in the season opener vs. BYU.

• Sydney McLeod did not allow an earned run in her 2.0 innings as the Husker starter vs. No. 1 Oklahoma.

Urness Starts Strong

Austen Urness began her junior season with a strong performance at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.

• Urness was one of 15 players named to the Puerto Vallarta College Classic All-Tournament Team. She was the lone Husker named to the team and was one of 10 hitters named to the all-tournament team.

• Urness went 4-for-12 (.333) at the Puerto Vallarta College Classic, leading Nebraska in hits, runs (2) and home runs (1), while ranking third with one RBI.

• Urness hit Nebraska’s lone home run of the opening weekend, a solo shot in the Huskers’ loss to BYU. She posted her first multi-hit game of the season with a pair of singles vs. No. 2 Auburn.

Nebraska vs. Ranked Opponents

Nebraska is 0-3 vs. ranked opponents in 2017 with two games vs. No. 24 Pitt and No. 3 Florida State this weekend.

• Nebraska is in the midst of playing seven consecutive games against ranked opponents. That ties for the longest such streak in school history and the longest ever during regular-season play.

• Overall, Nebraska has lost seven consecutive games against ranked opponents dating back to a 1-0 victory over No. 1 Michigan on April 8, 2017.

• The Huskers have lost 10 consecutive true road games to ranked opponents dating back to a pair of victories at No. 15 Missouri in the 2014 NCAA Regional.

• NU’s last road victory over a top-10 opponent came in 2013, when Nebraska beat No. 1 Oklahoma on March 2 and No. 3 Oregon twice in the NCAA Super Regional.

Scouting No. 24 Pittsburgh (5-0)

Pittsburgh went 5-0 last weekend at the UCF Knight Invitational, marking the second-best start in school history. The Panthers posted a pair of victories over No. 20 Kentucky, while also twice defeating host UCF, who received multiple votes in the preseason top-25. By virtue of the 5-0 start, Pittsburgh moved into the NFCA coaches’ poll at No. 24 this week, the first ranking in program history. Pitt returns eight starters and 10 letterwinners from a 2016 team that finished with a 31-21 record.

The Panthers outscored their opponents 26-9 during the opening weekend. Offensively, Pittsburgh hit .272 while averaging 5.2 runs per game, despite hitting only one home run.

Kaitlin Manuel hit .467 in the opening weekend (7-for-15) while slugging one double, one homer and seven RBIs. She leads the Panthers in average, hits, home runs and RBIs. Hannah Edwards is batting .389 after five games, going 7-for-18 with a pair of stolen bases. Alexis Solak (.375), Erin Hershman (.333), Valerie Ortega (.333) and McKayla Taylor (.313) are all hitting above .300 after one week of play. Hershman leads the team with five runs scored and three stolen bases, while Taylor has drawn a team-high three walks.

Defensively, Pitt posted a .976 fielding percentage at the UCF Knight Invitational while limiting opponents to only 1.8 runs per game. The Panther pitching staff posted a 1.17 ERA last week and held opposing hitters to a .201 average.

Pittsburgh primarily relied on the duo of Brittany Knight and Kayla Harris during the opening weekend. Knight posted a 3-0 record with one shutout and one save in 16.1 innings pitched. She appeared in four of the Panthers’ five games last weekend and did not allow an earned run, posting a 0.00 ERA to go along with a .161 opponent average. Harris threw a team-high 18.0 innings in the opening weekend, posting a 2-0 record with a 2.33 ERA. She has started three of Pittsburgh’s five games. Sarah Dawson rounds out the Panther staff. Dawson’s lone appearance last weekend came in a win vs. Florida A&M, when she threw 1.2 innings of perfect relief to earn the save.

Scouting No. 3 Florida State (5-0)

Florida State is 5-0 heading into a Wednesday home game with Florida A&M. The Seminoles – who have won 12 straight home games – stayed at No. 3 in this week’s NFCA coaches’ poll after outscoring their five opponents by a 35-3 margin at the season opening Unconquered Invitational. Florida State is coming off a 55-10 record in 2016, when the Seminoles posted a third-place finish at the Women’s College World Series.

Offensively, Florida State hit .345 in its five games last weekend while averaging 7.0 runs per game. The Seminoles also slugged .621 and hit six home runs.

Eight Seminoles – including five regulars – hit above .300 last week. Alex Powers, a 2016 second-team All-American, led the way with a .538 average that included two doubles. Powers leads the team in hits (7) and runs (7). Jessica Warren, a 2016 third-team All-American as a sophomore, hit .357 in the opening weekend and slugged three of Florida State’s six home runs. Warren drove in seven runs in five games last week. Cali Harrod also produced seven RBIs at the Unconquered Invitational while posting a .400 batting average with two doubles, two triples and two home runs. Carsyn Gordon (.385) and Ellie Cooper (.308) are also hitting above .300 this year.

Defensively, Florida State allowed only three runs in its five games last week, and the Seminoles did not allow more than one run in any game. Sophomore Meghan King led the way with a 3-0 record last weekend. King allowed only one unearned run in a team-high 16.1 innings with one shutout. Opponents hit just .186 against her, and King struck out 16 while walking only one. Jessica Burroughs, a 2016 third-team All-American, went 2-0 at the Unconquered Invitational with a 1.02 ERA in 13.2 innings. She struck out 15 and walked only two while allowing a pair of solo home runs. Opponents hit a paltry .163 against her.

Tessa Daniels (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 1.0 IP) and Cassidy Davis (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 1.0 IP) round out the Seminole staff.