Nebraska (19-9) opened last week with a doubleheader sweep of Omaha on the road on Wednesday by scores of 2-1 and 11-3.
Omaha has been consistently ranked in the Top 10 Mid-Major Poll by softball publication Extra Innings, and the momentum swung the Huskers’ way early when Brooke Andrews launched a solo home run off Omaha’s Kamryn Meyer. Ava Bredwell drove in the game-winning run in the top of the fifth with an RBI-single to left.
In the second game, it was all Huskers. Billie Andrew led off the game with a home run that sailed over the bull pen beyond the left field wall to give herself a birthday gift on the first pitch. It was her fifth lead-off home run of the year.
BIRTHDAY BASH @BILLIEANDREWS 🥳🥳🥳
Billie blasts her 5th leadoff HR of the year over the left field bullpen into Council Bluffs. pic.twitter.com/OFnPYX2lm3
— Nebraska Softball (@HuskerSoftball) March 15, 2023
Eight players recorded a hit and six players drove in at least one run. Mya Felder finished 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs. Billie Andrews and Katelyn Caneda had three hits each as well.
Sunday’s doubleheader in Lawrence was a different story. Nebraska beat Kansas City 12-2 in five innings and the lost 6-4 to the Jayhawks.
Nebraska took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth when Kansas exploded for four runs to take a 5-3 lead. Both teams scored one in the sixth and the Jayhawks held the Huskers scoreless in the top half of the seventh.
Felder homered in each game on Sunday, Sarah Harness improved to 7-3 and Courtney Wallace fell to 12-5.
MYA TO THE MOOOOOOOOON 🌙
A three-run HR from @mya_felder5 makes it 4-0 Big Red! pic.twitter.com/vggjkA72vz
— Nebraska Softball (@HuskerSoftball) March 16, 2023
The Huskers will host Iowa State on Wednesday for their home opener before beginning conference play this weekend when they welcome Purdue to Bowlin Stadium.
Here are five things that have to happen for Nebraska to win the series against Purdue.
It’s important for Nebraska to build an early lead especially against a Purdue pitching staff that has an earned run average of 3.57, which is 12th in the conference.
The Boilermakers have used six pitchers this season and the lowest ERA belongs to senior Mo Wimpee with a 2.48.
Purdue’s top three pitchers of Wimpee, Alex Echazarreta and Madi Elish don’t strike out a ton of batters but they are all averaging about a 2-to-1 ration of strikeouts to walks.
If Elish sounds familiar, it should, it’s because she is the younger sister of All-American Miranda Elish. Madi transferred to Purdue after a season at Arizona where she went 8-3 and appeared in 31 games as a freshman. The Indiana-native was ranked the No. 21 recruit in the country and, on paper, is a huge asset to this Boilermaker team.
Keep the Bats Hot
Nebraska has the second-best team batting average in the conference at .326, Indiana leads at .327.
Caneda is sixth in the conference with a .405 average and Billie Andrews is fourth with a .747 slugging percentage.
Billie Andrews, Caitlynn Neal and Mya Felder each rank in the top 10 for hits in the Big Ten. Andrews and Bredwell rank No. 7 and No. 8 in the Big Ten with 25 and 24 runs scored and Andrews is tied for lead with 10 home runs.
Make the Defense Work
Purdue’s defense has a .975 fielding percentage and has only committed 19 errors in 775 chances.
However, stats don’t tell the whole story.
Purdue struggled with mental mistakes against Mississippi this past weekend. If Nebraska can put runners on and force the Boilermakers to make quick decision, it could work in the Huskers favor.
Limit the Damage
Sophomore Tyrina Jones is leading Purdue offensively with a .382 batting average, .607 slugging, 89 at bats, 34 hits, 17 runs scored, five doubles, five home runs and 21 RBIs.
She basically leads the Boilermaker offense in every category, so Nebraska needs to keep her off the bases and force the rest of the lineup to score runs. The next-best numbers are 22 hits, 13 runs scored, 12 RBIs and two home runs.
Pitching Needs Support
The closer the score, the more stress put on the pitchers. With only two pitchers for the Huskers right now, the Huskers can’t afford to waste any time.
Courtney Wallace has pitched 88 innings with nine complete games. Sarah Harness has pitched 53 innings with four complete games.
Control has been a factor as each pitcher has struggled at times. Wallace has walked 40 (56 strikeouts) and hit five batters. Harness has walked 39 (60 strikeouts) and hit 12.
In summary, score early and often and try to secure at least one run-rule victory to give the pitchers some rest.
Maren covers softball for Hail Varsity and co-hosts the Behind the Plate with Maren and Nate podcast.