Nebraska softball will look to break out of a slump and get its first win in Big Ten

Tristen Edwards swings during the first game of the Cornhuskers' doubleheader against Drake at Bowlin Stadium on Tuesday March 26, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska softball will look to break out of a slump and get its first win in Big Ten play this weekend against Illinois at home.

The Huskers are currently on a 12-game losing streak and have lost 16 of their last 18 games. Over those last 12 games, Nebraska has been outscored 86-16. Most recently, the Huskers were swept by Drake in a two-game series, including a 14-0 loss on March 26.

In the first games of Big Ten play, No. 23 Michigan swept Nebraska 8-0, 7-2 and 12-0 over March 22 and 23.

Illinois will pose another challenge for the struggling Huskers.The Illini are 21-7 on the year, and are ranked 20th in RPI. Recently, Illinois went 2-1 in a series against No. 25 Wisconsin.

Last year, Illinois went 2-1 against Nebraska in a three-game series. Nebraska won the last matchup of that series 6-3, breaking its eight-game losing streak at the time.

Illinois is a talented team, with three players on its roster who earned All-Big Ten honors last season. Senior outfielders Kiana Sherlund and Carly Thomas were first-team selections, while junior catcher Stephanie Abello Jr. made the second team. Sherlund and Thomas have shined so far this year, with batting averages of .385 and .406, respectively.

On top of that, senior infielder Annie Fleming and sophomore catcher Bella Loya have also stepped up for the Illini. Fleming, coming off a redshirt year, leads Illinois with a .411 batting average. Loya earned Big Ten All-Freshman team honors last year and has built on that this season. She has a batting average of .389, and leads the team in both home runs (9) and RBIs (31).

However, Nebraska has a slugger of its own. Junior shortstop Tristen Edwards has nine home runs this year, tied with Loya for second in the Big Ten. While Edwards doesn’t boast as high of a batting average (.312), she still leads the Huskers with 19 runs, 24 hits and 17 RBIs.

Edwards was an All-Big Ten First Team selection last year and has continued to shine. After a week in which she went 7-12 from the plate with five home runs and 14 RBIs, she was named Louisville Slugger/NFCA Player of the Week, Big Ten Player of the Week and College Sports Madness National Field Player of the Week.

Edwards’ week was highlighted by a 4-4, two-home run, eight-RBI performance in a win over Pittsburgh. Her eight RBIs tied the Nebraska single-game record.

On the defensive side, this series may quickly become a nightmare for Nebraska. Illinois owns the best batting average in the Big Ten, hitting .331, while also being tied for the Big Ten lead in runs scored.

This does not bode well for the Huskers, as they have the worst ERA (4.92) and fielding percentage (.938) in the Big Ten.  

Nebraska’s best chance to win might come in a high-scoring affair. Illinois also struggles defensively, having the third-worst ERA in the Big Ten and the second-worst fielding percentage. However, the Huskers have also struggled to put up runs this year. Their .250 batting average and 129 runs rank only ahead of Iowa in the Big Ten.

To further put Nebraska’s struggles in perspective, they have not only been among the worst teams in the Big Ten, but all of Division I. Out of 295 teams, the Huskers rank 266th in fielding percentage, 230th in ERA and 213th in batting average.

Coming into the series, Nebraska seems to be overmatched. Nevertheless, the Huskers will look to pull an upset or two in their Big Ten home opener.