Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Five Things We Learned During Nebraska Softball’s Preseason

March 15, 2023

Describing the first half of Nebraska’s softball season could be described as a rollercoaster. The first weekend was a race to the top, the second weekend was the drop and the weekends that followed were up and down.

After winning two games against Missouri State and losing two games in disappointing fashion to Wichita State, Nebraska needs a couple of wins before starting conference play.

The Huskers currently sit at 16-8 and really needed to play a five-game slate this weekend but Mother Nature had other plans. Instead, the Huskers will play a double-header at Omaha on Wednesday and two games on Sunday against Kansas City and Kansas.

Here are five things we’ve learned about the Huskers through the first half of the season.

Billie Andrews is a Beast

Junior shortstop Billie Andrews has been in the starting lineup since her first game at Nebraska. 

As a freshman, she impressed Husker fans with her offensive output. Last season, as a sophomore, she introduced herself to the world as one of the top 100 players in Division I. She batted .330 with 59 hits, 54 runs scored, seven doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 51 runs batted in. She had an on-base percentage of .443 and stole 18 bases. 

This season, she is batting .366 with nine home runs and 20 RBIs. She has 30 hits in 24 games and tied her career-high with seven doubles. Her nine homers lead the Big Ten and places her top five in Division I. 

She is producing these crazy numbers from the lead-off spot in the batting order. Oh, and defensively, she has a .969 fielding percentage.

Injuries Hurt

Nebraska has been bit by the injury bug early. Andrews has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury which has prevented her from stealing bases. Junior infielder Sydney Gray has been sidelined with an injury since March 4 and junior pitcher Kaylin Kinney went down Feb. 26 with an injury to her glove hand.

While the ongoing issues with Andrews haven’t affected her or the team much, the other two injuries have forced Nebraska to shake things up. The biggest loss has been Kinney which brings us to our next thing.

Lack of Pitching Depth

Senior Courtney Wallace and junior Sarah Harness have been forced to carry the load for Nebraska since Kinney’s injury.

Kinney has pitched 25 innings, struck out 14, walked one and surrendered three earned runs. She had a record of 1-1 and an ERA of 0.84.

Wallace is coming off what could be the worst start of her career against Wichita State. She gave up 10 earned runs on 10 hits, walked five and struck out one in four innings against the Shockers. 

Harness’ start against the Shockers wasn’t pretty either. She gave up seven runs, five earned, on three hits, six walks and two strikeouts in an inning-and-a-third.

Sophomore Kendall Mangel has two appearances both in games that may have been to far gone. She has an 8.65 earned run average in 5.2 innings which translates to seven earned runs. She has walked six and has not recorded a strikeout.

Hopefully, Kinney can return sooner rather than later and this pitching staff can turn into a three-headed monster.

Freshmen Making an Impact

Katelyn Caneda began the season as the lone freshman in a very veteran lineup. She has stepped up and performed like an upperclassman. She is batting .323 and is tied for second on the team with 16 RBIs. 

Defensively, Caneda had to replace an All-American in Cam Ybarra. Thus far, she has four errors in 79 chances.

The injury to Gray opened up a spot in the outfield when Brooke Andrews moved to third base. Talia Tokheim has stepped in a big way. She made her first appearance against Arkansas as a pinch hitter, hit her first home run in a pinch-hit situation on Feb. 25 and has just been a steady force ever since.

In 10 games and seven starts, Tokheim is batting .481 (13-for-27) with five doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs. She has walked once and struck out once. She has completely taken advantage of her opportunity and will force the coaching staff to make some difficult decisions when Gray becomes healthy.

The Big Ten is Up for Grabs

The forever changing Power Rankings could be the first giveaway for this but there honestly, isn’t a clear-cut favorite at this point to win the conference.

Maryland has shown the most but Northwestern has played the toughest schedule. Michigan isn’t the same Michigan they were under Carol Hutchins and Nebraska has been floating in and out of the Top 25.

If anything, Maryland has been the most consistent and has the most favorable conference schedule to win the regular season. They avoid Northwestern, Michigan and Minnesota. 

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