By Nate Tenopir, Editor-in-Chief
When Allie Mathewson stepped into the batter’s box for her first at bat of the season, and her first at bat as a Maverick, her shoulders may have been heavy with expectation. The former Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year had an illustrious high school career that included a .542 batting average her senior year and a .462 career average overall.
Mathewson was named the honorary captain of the Lincoln Journal Star Super-State team in 2011, and twice received All-Nebraska honors from the Omaha World Herald. As a freshman at Creighton, Mathewson earned her way onto the All-Missouri Valley Conference Second Team.
But if Mathewson was feeling any pressure, it didn’t show. She put whatever weight of expectations there may have been into a swing that sent a pitch over the left field fence.
The excitement for Mathewson transferring to UNO last spring may have already been eclipsed in just her first at bat of the season. Not even she could have predicted her Maverick career could have started so well.
“That was the most excited that I’ve been to start off the season,” Mathewson said. “It just kind of set the tone for the rest of the weekend and for the rest of the girls because usually they look at a leadoff batter as, they can set the tone.”
That tone carried the Mavs to a 5-0 opening weekend with wins over Iona, UNC Wilmington and Detroit. This past weekend the hits just kept coming as Mathewson and UNO went 4-1 at the North Texas Lovelace Invitational in Denton, Texas.
The Mavs beat Dayton twice, North Texas and Oklahoma State. Their only loss came in a heartbreaking 2-1 decision against Iowa Saturday afternoon.
In 10 games Mathewson is hitting .323 with two doubles, five homeruns, 13 RBIs, an .871 slugging percentage and .475 on-base percentage. On the basepaths she’s already stolen four bases and scored eight runs.
They’re the kind of numbers not normally seen nor expected out of a leadoff hitter.
“Coach (Jeanne Scarpello) has told me [to do] whatever I need to do to get on base,” Mathewson said about her approach. “But, she also has told me she’s looking at me to score some runs.”
As a five tool player, Mathewson can hurt an opponent in multiple ways, creating a puzzle for how to pitch to her.
Come at her with power and Mathewson can put it over the fence. Change speeds and she’ll use the bunt or the slap hit to put the ball in play and beat the throw to first. Pitch around Mathewson and she’ll work a walk then swipe second and put herself in scoring position.
“I can slap and bunt but I would consider myself a power hitter because I usually swing away,” Mathewson said. “It’s kind of what we talked about at the beginning of the season, [finding] any way to get on is gonna help the team out.”
The freedom Mathewson has to be herself in the batter’s box is not something she enjoyed while at Creighton. Swinging away wasn’t part of the plan for a leadoff hitter in the Bluejays system.
Although she was constrained to a certain way of thinking, Mathewson still managed to hit .339, record seven doubles, one triple, five homeruns and 25 RBIs as a freshman at Creighton. But in 10 games at UNO, Mathewson’s homerun number has already equaled last year’s total, and her RBIs are more than half way to the number she knocked in last season.
“Coach Scarpello lets me look at the field and [decide] if you wanna bunt one time you can, if you want to hit away, anyway she says to get on,” Mathewson said. “At Creighton I didn’t have that freedom choose what I wanted to do. I’m just able to play my own game instead of having to do exactly what the coaches say.”
The freedom Mathewson enjoys with the Mavs is a big reason UNO has started the season with one of the best records in program history. Another is starting pitcher Dana Elsasser.
After 10 games Elsasser has picked up right where she left off last year as one of the best pitchers in the country. So far she is 6-1 with a 0.76 ERA. Elsasser has already piled up 28 strikeouts and opponents are only hitting .154 against her.
The prolific numbers Elsasser put up last season are part of the reason Mathewson was attracted to come across Omaha and play at UNO. Another is Coach Scarpello.
“It’s nice cause she (Elsasser) is such a good pitcher, and we have a lot of good leaders on the team that are willing to push some of the younger players. All the girls on the team would run through a brick wall for Coach Scarpello because she just pushes us to be the best player, best person we can be.”
Expanding on her numbers from the first 10 games over UNO’s full 45-game schedule shows a tremendous amount of potential for Mathewson’s future. If she continues on her current pace, the rest of the season would mean nine doubles, 23 homeruns and 59 RBIs.
Those numbers would best the single season record in homeruns (21,) and put her eighth in RBIs. If Mathewson maintains her slugging percentage she would be second in single season school history behind Leslie Svoboda’s .964 mark from 2006.
In just a handful of games it seems Mathewson has had no trouble adjusting to a new team and a new school. From almost the moment she stepped on campus at UNO, Mathewson said she made the right decision.
“All the players on this team are strong competitors and they wanna be there and they wanna play and that factored in,” Mathewson said. “Then having a coach support what you wanna do and just pushing you to be the best you can be, those were huge factors in why I wanted to transfer to UNO rather than stay at Creighton.”
“Now that I’ve come to UNO I finally fell like I found the place…I found my home. I love it here.”