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2019 Husker Softball

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The season is already underway with the Husker's sporting a 7-2 record after two weekends. 

 

Tristen Edwards and Alyvia Simmons are back and they were the top 2 hitters by average on the team last year. Edwards also led the team in home runs and slugging percentage and was 1st team All-B1G. Of course Kaylan Jablonski is gone, and she was 2nd on the team in home runs and slugging percentage. Additionally, she was by far the best pitcher on the staff. Simmons and Jablonski were 2nd team All-B1G. Edwards has started out well this season and has  B1G player of the week and National player of the week recognition already under her belt. 

 

Of the newcomers, Wallace and Walljasper appear to be the headliners. Walljasper (pitcher) was named California POY small school division, and Wallace (pitcher/infielder) was named Nebraska Gatorade's POY. Walljasper has started out hot at the plate AND on the mound and has a B1G freshman of the week award already. 

 

From a pitching perspective, losing Jablonski was a noticeable hit. She was 21-14 winning about two-thirds of the teams 31 victories. She also had 6 saves. The 2nd best pitcher on the staff was Olivia Ferrel who was 9-8 with an ERA over 4, as a freshman. The big disappointment from the pitching side was the lack of production from Regan Mergele. She was the huge get of the 2017 recruiting cycle coming from Butler County Juco having won a national championship her sophomore year and having compiled a 53-3 record with a 1.15 ERA in her two years there. In her junior year at Nebraska, she was nearly invisible with a 1-1 record and a nearly 5 ERA in 6 starts. I don't know if it was an injury problem or if the stage is "too big," but I expected a better transition after being so dominant at the Juco level.

 

This year, Walljasper and Wallace have already been inserted into the rotation with mixed but mostly positive results. Walljasper is 2-0 with an ERA under 2. Wallace is also 2-0 but got abused in a no decision and currently has an ERA over 5. Ferrel got absolutely lit on an outing against Texas Tech (0 outs, 7 earned runs), but followed that up with a decent outing last weekend against Pitt. The good news is that after taking a loss in relief in the first weekend, Mergele came back with a complete game shutout of NC State with 9 strikeouts and only 3 walks. She (Mergele) currently has an ERA hovering around 1 after 18 innings pitched with 27 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Right now it appears to be pitching by committee with a young staff that includes 2 freshman and a sophomore. It will be interesting on how much of a load Mergele takes if she continues to pitch well. 

 

I couldn't find a pre-season poll for the B1G, but initially it appeared that Michigan & Minnesota were the class of the league, followed by Northwestern and Ohio State, with Wisconsin and Nebraska competing for NCAA tournament berths. However, after two weekends, Illinois and Indiana have also inserted themselves as contenders in the conference.  

 

Last year, the team started out pretty well in non-conference by beating a few teams ranked in the top 25. Of course they did get drilled by the big dogs (Washington and Oklahoma) but that was to be expected. They started out the B1G season by keeping their heads above water in the first half of conference play (8-5), but then they lost 8 straight before winning the final regular season game. They followed up a 9-13 conference season with a first round loss in the conference tournament. And this resulted in being shut out of the NCAA tournament for the 2nd straight year.

Revelle is a HOF coach. She has guided the team to the NCAA's in 20 of 26 years. However, two of the six years her teams haven't made it.....have been the last two. Coach Sippel is the pitching coach and has averaged an All Conference performer per year at that position. She has actually been at Nebraska longer than Coach Revelle. The question might be are they losing their edge as age creeps up on them. Or are the past two years the exception.

On most days, this team will score on the plus side of 4 runs. The big unknown is the pitching. It is probably too much too ask Walljasper and Wallace to come in and carry the group. Ferrel needs to continue to improve and lower her ERA down in the low 3s. Mergele needs to "obtain, retain, and sustain" the form that made her an imposing Juco pitcher. Otherwise, it looks like they're missing the NCAAs for a third straight year.

 

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Well that didn't take long.............

The 2019 season is just past the halfway point (barely started conference play) and the wheels have come off the Husker Softball team wagon. Completely.

 

The season started out innocuously enough, losing close to teams ranked in the teens and twenties, losing big to the occasional top tier team, but predominately beating lesser teams, including a pair of ACC patsies. At one point the Huskers were 10 - 6, Tristen Edwards and Alyvia Simmons were hitting well, Bri Cassidy and Bree Boruff were making surprising contributions at the plate, Lindseey Walljasper was a solid add pitching and hitting (particularly for a freshman), and Reagan Mergele had an ERA under 2 even though she didn't have a record to match.

Three weekends ago, they traveled to Wichita State and suffered a sweep where they were only competitive in one of the three games. The Shockers have a solid team, but they are not ranked nor are they receiving votes in the polls. Then comes the Rock Chalk Challenge against Tulsa and Kansas, playing each team twice. Tulsa is a good team that is currently receiving votes in the polls, while Kansas was struggling at the time coming into the challenge at 5 - 17. The first game against Tulsa was close with the Huskers losing in extra innings.

And then the bottom fell out. The bats went stone cold, and the pitching was doused with gas, and lit on fire.

On Saturday (March 16), the Jayhawks trotted out a 2 - 10 pitcher, who promptly shut out Big Red 2-0 and then turned around on Sunday and doubled her win total for the season by shutting out the Huskers again 1-0. In between those blankings, the Golden Hurricane tossed their own shutout 6-0. Last weekend, Nebraska traveled to play a ranked Michigan squad, and was crushed in all three games being shut out in two of them. And last night, in the Huskers home opening, the mighty Drake Bulldogs (unranked and not receiving votes) easily swept a doubleheader from the home team, with another shutout being applied in the second game of the twinbill. In the last eight games, Nebraska has been shutout 6 times, scored 1 run in one game and 2 runs in the other. In the last eight games the mercy rule has been applied 3 times. In the last eight games, the Huskers have been outscored 57 - 3. And the last eight games are just the tail end of a 12 game losing streak.

Edwards is second on the team in hitting and leading the team in slugging percentage, however, her fielding has been abysmal. She already has 17 errors this year, 4 more than she had all of last year, and her fielding percentage is hovering around .800. I haven't seen that low a fielding percentage for a shortstop since grade school. Regardless of her hitting, I don't see how she repeats as 1st team B1G with a fielding deficit that awful. Obviously the team as a whole is struggling to push across runs recently, something that was assumed to be a strength. The supposed question mark of this team was the pitching. Mergele's ERA has steadily climbed from 1.8 to the current 3.83 and will likely be over 4 before April comes around. And she has the only ERA under 5. The composite team ERA is just a shade under the 5.00 mark.

The B1G tournament invites 12 of 14 softball teams, but at this juncture I don't see Nebraska making it. They've played 28 games and have 23 remaining. The B1G has 3 teams ranked with 4 receiving votes (in fact 6 teams in the top 30), which means the conference is deeper than normal. Nebraska is going to have a hard time getting to 17 wins, which would be half of their projected losses at 34. And that's probably the high end of the spectrum.

The bio for Revelle says "She has guided the team to the NCAA's in 20 of 26 years." That is about to become 20 of 27. And three years ago it said 20 of 24. Revelle is a Hall of Famer. Her job is undoubtedly secure even with missing the NCAA tournament 3 years in a row. But at what point do you start pushing the HOF coach to the side based on poor recent performance.

 

Enough of the mid-season update doom and gloom. Please return to the optimism that is spring football and the spring volleyball exhibition match. Plus the Fightin' Erstads are doing well on the baseball side also.

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