It's just about that time to play ball
Nebraska's baseball and softball seasons are near, which is fitting with the weather feeling like spring this week in Lincoln.
Nebraska will soon relinquish its title as the “San Diego of the Big Ten” to the two programs — USC and UCLA — that will more appropriately carry the title. Both the Trojans and the Bruins, after all, are an approximate two-hour drive to San Diego depending on traffic.
That said, Nebraska is looking at temperatures in the 40s this week — even 50 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday — so it’s possible that the Husker baseball and softball teams could take advantage of the weather and practice outside a time or two depending on field conditions. (A bonus here for softball since the Huskers now play on a turf field.) It’d be nice for both too, especially as each team’s season approaches quickly.
For softball, first pitch is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8 against Washington. The Huskers will head to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a tournament that also includes Duke, Long Beach State and Utah Valley.
As for baseball, the Huskers face Baylor on Friday, Feb. 16 as part of the Shriners Children’s College Showdown in Arlington, Texas. The Huskers will also face Texas Tech and Oklahoma over that weekend.
Neither team is home until March, which is usually for the best. Nebraska may currently still be the warmest Big Ten school, but it’s not that warm. Even early March can be dicey with weather, including the potential for snow.
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We won’t think about that right now though. Instead, let’s talk about the two teams.
First up, baseball.
Toughest team in the country? That’s the plan for coach Will Bolt and his group in 2024.
Although, the term “cage rats” is more specifically how Bolt described it last week when he met with the media. The team, he said, is focused solely on class and practice as it figures itself out as a group.
Bolt likes the Huskers’ depth so far, but a lot has yet to be settled. That includes at pitcher, where Bolt wants to be especially mindful of how to best utilize players and when throughout the season (an issue that has plagued the Huskers).
“That’s been the biggest thing we’re going to ask of everybody,” he said during baseball’s fist spring availability. “It’s not going to be two guys who step up and replace those guys. It’s going to be a collective effort.”
It’s both comfortable and uncomfortable for Bolt to have a team where he isn’t 100% sure who is starting and who isn’t. That depth though will be key through spring, especially as the Huskers look for a much different result in 2024 than the’ve had in 2023 (especially as they look for a return to the NCAA Tournament). Right now Nebraska is looking at up to 10 pitchers — both returners and newcomers — who could start games if needed.
Speaking of newcomers, Nebraska fans will have a number of new faces to get to know this spring. The Huskers added nine players through junior college recruiting in the offseason, a step for Bolt in adding to that much-needed depth he’s talked about. That depth is what Nebraska needs, especially on “Championship Sunday,” a day that seemingly eluded the Huskers last year.
Nebraska’s 2023 roster lacked that depth to make it through a weekend, but the 2024 roster has been reworked to hopefully address just that.
“We have some guys who have been in that role before, whereas last year we were thrusting guys into roles and finding out the hard way they weren’t ready for it,” Bolt said.
Speaking of new roles, a reminder that Nebraska added Rob Childress as its pitching coach, while Mike Sirianni is working with hitters and infielders. In game, Sirianni will handle first base.
“There’s some new ideas, some new faces in the coaching staff, and that brings a little bit of renewed energy,” Bolt said.
With so much new, Husker fans can get familiar — at least a little bit — during Nebraska’s Fan Fest on Friday, Feb. 2. The event is scheduled from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Hawks Championship Center.
Now on to softball.
The Huskers will start their season ranked No. 17 by both the ESPN and USA Softball preseason polls. Additionally, junior Jordy Bahl — who transferred to Nebraska from Oklahoma in the offseason — was recently named one of 50 players to watch for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. Bahl was the only player from the Big Ten Conference named to the list.
So, yeah . . . Let’s just say the hype is real around Nebraska softball.
The Huskers hope to build on their 2023 season, which included a 36-22 overall record and a mark as the second-best hitting team in the Big Ten. Nebraska finished just behind Indiana’s .311 with .308 from the plate. While the Huskers fell short of their goal to repeat as Big Ten Conference Tournament champions last season, they still did enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.
With Bahl on board — as well as a strong group of returners — this team has even higher aspirations for 2024. Bahl comes to Nebraska having been named first-team All-American and the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in both of her two seasons at Oklahoma. She boasts a 44-2 career record with a 0.99 ERA, as well as a .350 career hitter.
But we can’t forget about Peyton Cody in all of this either. While Bahl gets a lot of attention — and rightfully so — Cody’s transfer to Lincoln brings additional experience to the Huskers’ roster. She played in 149 games with 139 starts at St. John’s, while posting a .316 career batting average, collecting 134 hits, 29 doubles, 20 home runs and 100 RBIs.
As for the returners, infielder Billie Andrews is a big one to keep an eye on (as if you could ignore her). She’s the home-run champ for the Huskers, boasting 43 career home runs to date. There’s also infielder Katelyn Caneda, who looks to build on an impressive freshman season, taking home honors for all-Big Ten first-team and also named as part of the All-Freshman and All-Defensive teams in 2023.
It has the makings of a very fun team to watch.
By the way, if you’re heading to baseball’s fan fest on Friday, you might as well plan to be back at the Hawks Championship Center on Saturday, Feb. 3. The Nebraska softball team will host its inaugural Fan Day from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The event will feature live music, inflatables, games, a balloon artist and face painter, as well as team introductions before fans can interact and take photos with the Huskers.
Also, if you’re wondering why there aren’t any quotes from coach Rhonda Revelle and her team in this, it’s because the first press conference will take place prior to Fan Day. That means we’ll have plenty more on the softball front in the coming days and weeks.
One last thing on softball: a recommendation to read Maren Angus-Coombs’ feature on Abbie Squier, whose role with Nebraska will look a little different this spring.
While we have to wait a little longer to see it all for ourselves in Lincoln, the excitement is still building for both programs heading into spring. If you can’t wait, a friendly reminder that a number of games will be streamed early in the season — keep an eye on the baseball and softball schedules for specifics — and the Huskers Radio Network always has you covered.
Just checked the weather for Lincoln again. Wednesday is now trending with a high of 56 degrees and mostly sunny weather. Feels like baseball and softball weather, if you ask me.