2014 NCAA Softball Tournament, Columbia Regional: Well hello, old friend

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For as much as everyone will wax poetic about the Big 8 reunion this weekend in the Columbia Regional, the Nebraska softball team is no joke and is a very serious threat to keep MU out of the Super Regional round

Switzy stepped up to the plate to provide the Nebraska preview...all hail Switzy!! Don't forget to hit the Bradley Preview from yesterday and REALLY don't forget to make your TREMENDOUS STUBBLE DONATION DRIVE PLEDGE!!

Quite a bit is going to be made about the NCAA and their selection of Nebraska and kansas to play as regional opponents in Columbia this weekend. It is probably worth pointing out that, while the teams all have tremendous HISTORY against one another, it is just that. The last time MU and NU played, the only member of the current squad to see time was Mackenzie Sykes, who struck out in a pinch hit appearance in a 4-1 win that was over three years ago.

Nebraska Schedule/Common Opponents

Nebraska has a fairly storied history in softball, and their non-conference schedule this season reflected that, as they played 10 games against top 15 competition, going a respectable 4-6 against teams seeded 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in the NCAA tourney this year (and 5-8 overall against seeded teams). They don’t have the seasoning Missouri has, but the coaches have made a point of challenging their team. So how do Nebraska and Missouri stack up against common foes?

  • Iowa: Nebraska swept 3-0, Missouri went 1-2
  • Arizona: Nebraska lost 7-0, Missouri won 2-0
  • UCLA: Nebraska lost 6-2, Missouri lost 4-3
  • Ohio State: Nebraska went 3-1 (with three run-rule wins in regular season play but a loss in the Big Ten tourney), Missouri went 1-0
  • Texas A&M: Nebraska went 1-0, Missouri went 1-2
  • Oklahoma St.: Nebraska went 2-0, Missouri went 1-0
  • Illinois: Nebraska went 2-1, Missouri went 1-1
  • Creighton: Nebraska went 1-0, Missouri went 2-0

That’s Nebraska (10-4) and Missouri (9-6) against common opponents. That, along with Nebraska’s 40-15 record, suggests that from a results standpoint, Nebraska matches up very well with the Tigers. Of course, judging teams by their results is so passé – let’s look at the numbers.

Nebraska Offense

As a team, Nebraska hits a respectable .301, although the composition of that is strange – 2 regulars hitting in the mid .300s, and most of the rest of the team hitting between .250-.310. They have good power, with 61 HR on the season. But the rest of the field won’t have to worry much about the basepaths; Nebraska has only 35 stolen bases for the season, while being caught 13 times.

Their probably lineup looks like this:

1. Taylor Edwards (Sr. – C – Twin Sister #1) Leads the team with a .362 average and a lot of pop (17 HR). She also leads the team in OBP, getting on base over 50% of the time thanks to 37 walks.

2. Hailey Decker (So. – 2B) .360 with 17 doubles and 9 HR and a 2nd best 43 RBI. She likes to make contact, only taking 10 walks on the season.

3. Tatum Edwards (Sr. – P/DP – Twin Sister #2) An imposing presence in the circle, Edwards also manages to lead the Huskers in RBI (50) and place 2nd in HR (14). She is also the Husker most likely to strike out, having done so 32 times so far this season.

4. MJ Knighten (Fr. – 3B) Bats .308, but with only a .481 slugging percentage. Knighten has a handful of HR, but is primarily a singles hitter at this early point in her career. She does place 2nd on the team in steals…with 5.

5. Kylee Muir (Jr. – RF) .278, 11 doubles, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 17/22 BB/K ratio. These are not ideal numbers for a #5 hitter.

6. Alicia Armstrong (So. – SS) Armstrong sports a .311 average with not much juice (10 doubles, 2 HR), but she does have 3 triples on the year and rarely strikes out (13 – easily the lowest total of the 6 players with 50+ starts).

7. Kiki Stokes (So. – CF) Stokes is the resident speedster, hence playing CF. She is 13/19 on stolen base attempts and shares the lead in triples with Armstrong (3). She hits .288 with an OBP over .400, but also has the 2nd most strikeouts on the team (27)

8a. Kat Woolman (Fr. – LF) Quintessential 8 hitter, with a .253 average and only 5 extra base hits. Woolman has 18 strikeouts in only 87 at-bats.

8b. Austen Urness (Fr. – LF) Urness has been brought back slowly since being concussed against Kansas in March (I smell a revenge subplot!) but has managed a few starts. In her somewhat limited action, she has hit .291 with 6 doubles and managed to get hit by 10 pitches in only 86 at-bats, helping her to a 3rd best .411 OBP. There’s a good chance she would hit higher in the lineup if she plays over Woolman.

9. Dawna Tyson (So. – 1B) Tyson sports a .210 average and a sub-.300 slugging percentage, yet started 48 times for the Huskers this season.

The top of the lineup is solid, but the rest is vulnerable. The Edwards sisters account for over half of the Huskers’ homeruns, so teams might choose to pitch around those two to some degree, and challenge the rest of the lineup to come through. But even without speed, Nebraska is fully prepared to small ball their way to runs, relying on solid singles hitting, and free bases earned by walks and HBP (the team has 45 on the season – more than double Missouri’s total).

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska’s numbers aren’t great - .968 fielding percentage – but they don’t tell the whole story. The regular players at second, short, and third have combined for 39 of the team’s 54 errors on the season. If the ball goes to the outfield, it’s probably going to be taken care of. But grounders (esp. combined with speed) could easily disrupt the Huskers game.

Nebraska Pitching

In a regional matchup, it can be difficult to predict who a team will face. In the case of Nebraska, which features two very good pitchers, that goes double.

The workhorse and ace is Tatum Edwards, whose 22-11 record does not do justice to her 1.96 ERA and 195 strikeouts. The discrepancies can be explained by her high walk total (105) and incredible ability to make contact with batters’ bodies – 38 HBP in just over 200 innings. Additionally, she has suffered through 19 unearned runs allowed (same number as Tori Finucane for Missouri). If she stays in the zone and forces contact, though, Edwards will do well. Opponents are hitting only .195 against her this season.

The other Nebraska pitcher is Emily Lockman (So.), who has pitched 150 innings on the year and carries a gaudy 18-4 record into the postseason. Lockman isn’t the power pitcher Edwards is, but she has better control (only 53 walks and 13 HBP). Her 2.09 ERA and opponents’ .231 batting average probably indicate that she will be used more regularly than many #2 pitchers might be.

Overall Thoughts

Nebraska is certainly the #2 seed in this regional, and deservedly so. Their blueprint is a tried and true one – high level pitching, timely hitting. When that works, it works well. Nebraska has a very experienced and successful coach in Rhonda Revelle, who has led 18 tournament teams, and three squads to the WCWS. The Huskers will surely be prepared this weekend, and are a legitimate threat to challenge for the Columbia regional.

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