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Illinois vs. Nebraska, 3.30

Nebraska's Courtney Wallace celebrates after hitting a triple against Illinois on March 30. Wallace has played several positions and is second on the team in innings pitched.

Courtney Wallace is starting to put her finger on competing at the Division I level.

After the Nebraska freshman produced a solid relief effort against Big Ten power Minnesota, softball coach Rhonda Revelle was asked where Wallace has improved as a pitcher in recent weeks.

"Quite honestly, she's feeling her pressure points on her fingers better," Revelle said. "There's a lot of other things that go along with that, but she's able to (create) more friction, so she's getting more cut on the ball.

"It's just a development thing."

And so goes the learning curve for Wallace and fellow freshman and two-way player Lindsey Walljasper.

The two players have a lot in common. Both were highly touted recruits. Both contribute as hitters and pitchers. Though their pitching styles are different -- Wallace relies a lot on power and velocity, and Walljasper can throw multiple pitches and mix speeds -- both are competitors. And both may very well be the cornerstone pieces of the Huskers' future in softball.

Both were thrown into the fire, too. Walljasper was the starting pitcher in the team's season opener, becoming just the third Husker freshman arm to start an opener since 1995. Wallace started the second game of 2019.

At 17-28, Nebraska is not having a typical Nebraska softball season, and an inexperienced pitching staff has taken its lumps.

The pitchers, including sophomore Olivia Ferrell, are hoping to build on those experiences for future seasons.

"At this point, it's just a learning experience," said Walljasper, who is 8-11 with a 4.86 earned-run average. "I really have nothing to lose at this point, so I just have to keep going out there battling every single pitch. Learn from every single pitch."

The pitch-by-pitch mentality has been the biggest adjustment for Walljasper and Wallace. In travel ball and high school, a high-level pitcher may only have to worry about two or three strong hitters near the top of the lineup. In college, it's one through nine, Walljasper said.

"Coming in here, I need to actually focus on every single batter, every single pitch and every single strike and where I want to put it," she said. "Without that, it obviously shows. You know that you have to hit your spots, because there's no room for error at this point."

Wallace said situational pitching has been the biggest learning curve for her.

"When to place a ball on the plate, when to place a ball off the plate, how many balls off the plate we want to place in certain situations, certain counts, knowing defense," said Wallace, who also had made starts at left field and third base and has a 5.54 ERA in the circle. "Even playing in the outfield, there's some things that I'm learning still out there."

Walljasper and Wallace have picked up the majority of the innings. At 89 1/3 frames, Walljasper ranks first on the team in innings pitched. Wallace (78 1/3) ranks second. Both have combined for 28 starts.

Despite some struggles in the circle, confidence is not waning for Walljasper or Wallace. Both players said they envision success in future seasons.

"I think we build off each other a lot, especially going into the future," Walljasper said. "I know that these next three years are going to be nothing but good things happening between the two of us, especially that we're complete opposites.

"All we're doing is improving at this point and moving on to the future. It's just one pitch at a time and that's exactly what we're doing and we have each other's backs."

Said Wallace, "The game will be the same, but technicalities of it, it's been pretty hard. But next year, I'm thinking positively, because I'll already have experience, I'll know what to expect, what I'm supposed to do on and off the field, how much work I need to put in and all of the above."

Nebraska will host Maryland for a three-game set, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Bowlin Stadium.

It's fan appreciation weekend at Bowlin. That includes free admission to Saturday's 1 p.m. game and an autograph session following Sunday's 11 a.m. finale.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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