Nebraska Softball vs. South Dakota State

Nebraska’s Courtney Wallace (23) winds up for a pitch during the game against South Dakota State at Bowlin Stadium on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

What a year it was for Nebraska softball.

A Big Ten Championship, an 18-game win streak and a first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016 all wrapped into one memorable season that will be remembered for years to come. 

It all began on a frigid February day in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There, the Huskers started their season at the UNI Dome Classic with a win over Omaha. No one could have predicted the incredible run that would follow. 

Except for senior pitcher Courtney Wallace.

“We want to get to the postseason,” Wallace said in February at her preseason press conference. “These are the things we have to do, so just setting that standard early on.” 

Nebraska eventually earned that coveted postseason birth by winning the Big Ten Tournament. Three straight come-from-behind victories over Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan brought the Big Ten title to Nebraska for the first time in program history. The accomplishment capped an incredible regular season and secured the Huskers’ spot in the NCAA Tournament. 

It was not an easy road to that point, however. Early in the season, there were times when the Huskers struggled to find their groove. They had a solid nonconference record of 20-9, but fell to teams like Northern Iowa, Southeastern Louisiana and Kansas, none of which finished anywhere near the NCAA Tournament field. 

One of the lowest moments of the season came on March 15, when the Huskers traveled to San Diego. There, they played a doubleheader against the San Diego Toreros. After beginning March with a 7-2 record, Nebraska was riding high. Just two days prior, the Huskers had won four of five in a weekend tournament. 

The two games against San Diego were a gut punch, however. The Toreros, who finished the season ranked No. 111 nationally, shut down Nebraska. A 4-2 loss and a 4-0 loss back-to-back sent the Huskers home from California with a realty check. 

In retrospect, those two losses were exactly what Nebraska softball needed. The disappointing performance lit a fire under the Huskers. On March 19, they began an 18-game win streak, the longest in program history. 

Nebraska began Big Ten play with a series against Michigan. Their trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan provided a preview of the magnificent season ahead. The Wolverines entered the matchup as defending Big Ten Champions and were ranked No. 19 in the nation. 

Despite being big underdogs, the Huskers swept Michigan in a doubleheader. In the second of the two games, Nebraska gave up four runs in the first inning. The deficit did not seem to phase it, as Nebraska scored seven straight to win 7-4. 

Comeback wins were a trend for Nebraska as its explosive offense continually kept it in games. The Huskers finished top 25 nationally in home runs per game. Sophomore shortstop Billie Andrews led the team in home runs with 20, enough for 12th nationally. They also finished top 25 nationally in scoring, slugging percentage and batting average. 

The best example of Nebraska’s offensive firepower came in a game against Minnesota on April 17. In the first two games of a three game series, Nebraska dominated the Golden Gophers. However, it was Minnesota who jumped out to a huge lead in the third game. Halfway through the third inning, the Huskers trailed 8-1. The win streak was in jeopardy. 

This did not seem to bother Nebraska. In the final four innings, the Huskers scored 10 straight runs to defeat the Golden Gophers 11-8. This scoring run was highlighted by a fourth inning grand slam by senior right fielder Peyton Glatter. 

The most memorable grand slam of the season, however, came in a 14-1 rout of Iowa. In the bottom of the third, sophomore center fielder Caitlynn Neal hit a grand slam over the left field wall. To most, it seemed like a routine home run. For Neal and the rest of the Nebraska team, it held a much deeper meaning. 

In a video that later went viral on social media, Nebraska softball manager Rhonda Revelle explained that Neal hit the grand slam on her late father’s birthday. 

“Her whole team knows that, they’ve encircled her,” Revelle said after the game. “When that ball left that bat…we all knew what it was about.” 

The 18-game win streak eventually came to an end. Down the stretch of the season, the Huskers lost five of nine. In two series against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Nebraska looked outmatched at times. 

Despite their late struggles, the Huskers finished strong. In front of a packed Bowlin Stadium, Nebraska put on a show in its final game of the regular season. In an extra innings comeback victory, the Huskers defeated Indiana — a fitting way to end their impressive season. 

All of the wins and broken records culminated in an NCAA Tournament berth. The Huskers were placed into the Stillwater Regional hosted by No. 7 overall seed Oklahoma State. 

After defeating North Texas in the first game of the tournament 3-0, the Huskers fell to Oklahoma State 7-4. This put them up in an elimination game in a rematch with the Mean Green. This time, North Texas got the better of Nebraska, winning 3-0. The loss eliminated the Huskers from the NCAA Tournament, a disappointing end to a phenomenal season. 

As expected, the Huskers will undergo some season-to-season overhaul in the offseason. Nebraska softball honored six seniors on senior day, with captains and starting pitchers Olivia Ferrell and Courtney Wallace the most notable among them. Wallace has one year of eligibility remaining, but is weighing her options regarding the future of her collegiate softball career.

The Huskers will lose second baseman Cam Ybarra, who earned First Team All-Big Ten honors, as well as catcher Ani Raley, pitcher Karlee Seevers and right fielder Peyton Glatter. 

Despite these losses, the Huskers will retain a majority of their roster. They will return three All-Big Ten players in Andrews, sophomore left fielder Abbie Squier and junior first baseman Mya Felder. Freshman catcher Ava Bredwell, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, will also return for Nebraska. 

Even with the Huskers’ season ending earlier than they would’ve liked, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the team is capable of returning to a national stage in 2023. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com