Published May 30, 2013
LINCOLN, Neb. – Emily Lockman was watching the Women's College World Series last year at home in California, just a couple weeks removed from high school graduation, and decided to take picture of her TV screen and attached it to a text to Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle.
"Let's plan on it," the text said.
The day Hailey Decker showed up last August before her first fall practice, she strode up to the whiteboard in the Cornhuskers' clubhouse and wrote, "Goal: OKC."
Oh, the audacity of those freshmen.
"They came in with just this spunk about them," senior third baseman Gabby Banda said.
It's in large part because of Lockman, Decker and five other freshmen that the Huskers (45-14) are in Oklahoma City this week for the WCWS. They open against Washington (43-15) on Thursday.
No team in the WCWS has more freshman contributors than the Huskers, who at No. 14 are the lowest remaining seed left in the NCAA tournament.
Lockman, an All-Big Ten second-team pick and the No. 2 pitcher behind All-American Tatum Edwards, in February became the first Nebraska freshman to throw a no-hitter since 2003. She was the winning pitcher in the super regional-clinching win at Oregon last Sunday.
Decker homered in her first collegiate at-bat and has started every game at second base. Alicia Armstrong is an all-conference second-teamer at shortstop and is batting a team-leading .347. Leadoff batter Kiki Stokes is one of the fastest players in program history and has turned in several spectacular defensive plays in left field the past month.
Revelle said reaching the WCWS is the goal at Nebraska every year, but she acknowledges that few people outside the program would have thought this would be one of those seasons. After all, 11 of the 17 players on the roster had no experience in postseason play.
"You would have thought it would be tough with seven freshmen," sophomore first baseman and co-captain Mattie Fowler said.
Well, it wasn't easy. To make it to the WCWS, the Huskers had to beat an Oregon team that carried a 24-game home winning streak into last weekend.
"We've come out of nowhere," Revelle said. "We were just kind of going methodically about our business and thinking we don't know what the limit is. People have asked what's the limit. I say let's not put a ceiling on it."
Revelle scheduled aggressively, considering she had such a young team. The non-conference schedule was the toughest in the nation, according to the NCAA RPI, and the Big Ten offered no break. Four teams from the conference made the NCAA tournament, and Michigan is joining Nebraska at the WCWS.
After running her team through an early schedule that included ranked opponents such as Oklahoma, California, Oregon, Arizona and Florida State, Revelle had no questions about her team's mental toughness and confidence.
"I just think competitive athletes have to believe in themselves first," Revelle said. "If a coach has to work on their belief, then you're not going to get as far. What we've helped them with is verifying and validating that they should believe in themselves."
Banda said she has no doubt her younger teammates are ready for what awaits in Oklahoma City.
"They've played in front of big crowds and in big games," she said. "I'm pretty sure the pressure really is not a big deal for them anymore."