Finishing a brutal stretch of nine games in ten days (in the midst of a playing 19 in 26 overall), it’d been forgivable if Nebraska came up a little bit light against an overmatched Louisiana Tech team.
Instead, the Huskers routed the Bulldogs in the first three games of the series by a combined score of 42-9.
While a Sunday batting order change cost the Huskers the series’ finale, and likely some valuable RPI points, the Nebraska offense looked extremely impressive over the weekend.
Even in Sunday’s 6-5 loss, the Huskers left two runners in scoring positions in four straight innings. A single clutch hit could’ve won the game, and the tying run was even cut down at the plate on an excellent Bulldog relay from center.
Sure, the hitting was stellar, but the Nebraska pitching staff didn’t disappoint either. Solid starts from Thursday starter Zach Hirsch and Friday’s Jon Keller helped alleviate some of the pressure the starting rotation has put on the bullpen.
Saturday starter Tom Lemke had a short outing due to his pitch count, but only allowed one run. Sunday’s Tyler Niederklein had the rough outing of the weekend, giving up four runs in four innings of work.
It’s hard to read too much into this weekend as Nebraska dominated a team it should’ve. What was excellent to see was the Husker Hardballers jump on teams and not let up.
During Friday’s game, every player who started got a hit. Chad Christensen continues to tear the cover off the ball. His three multi-hit games this past weekend brings his season total to 14.
Nebraska recorded 65 hits on the weekend, though they allowed 39. The Big Red’s pitching still isn’t crisp, but the lineup in the first three games seems to be gelling. Hopefully this is an indication of where the team is heading, and not just an insanely hot streak.
The non-conference schedule’s essentially done for Nebraska. It’s time to begin their first season of Big Ten play by facing off against defending conference champion Illinois. The Illini should prove a much stiffer challenge than the Bulldogs did.
Husker fans should circle the series against Purdue, currently in the top ten of Boyd World’s simulated RPI, and Ohio State. A non-conference series against Cal State Bakersfield down the road will give the Huskers another opportunity to maintain their RPI and improve their resume.
Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule doesn’t help. Creighton, Northern Colorado, and Kansas State are all outside of the current RPI top 100. Making things worse is the remainder of the Big Ten schedule, a conference rated No. 15 in overall RPI.
Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan are all either near or outside the top 200. Michigan State, the other conference contender, his absent from the Huskers’ schedule..
Nebraska still likely needs to win the Big Ten tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but a strong showing during the conference slate could help build the bubble case.
Fortunately, the team easily outclasses much of the remaining competition. If Nebraska finishes worse than second in conference, the season should be viewed as a disappointment.
- Chad Christensen was a double away from hitting for the cycle in Thursday’s game. He went 8-for-18 at the dish this weekend while recording eight RBIs, one walk, and no strikeouts
- Kale Kiser showed signs of breaking out of his season-opening slump, hitting 4-of-11 on the weekend.
- Both Nebraska and Louisiana Tech stranded 39 runners on base over 36 innings of play. Nebraska stranded 12 runners during the Sunday loss.
- As a team, the Huskers are hitting .334 after 18 games, with four Huskers (Kelly, Pritchard, Sheffert, and Christensen) hitting over .400, and Richard Stock hitting .381. The opposition is hitting .287 against the Big Red.
- After such great success in the first three games against Louisiana Tech, Darin Erstad’s switch up of the batting order was a confusing decision. While certain players rested, Nebraska’s skipper had to restock the middle of the order, and it was difficult to see the Huskers lose some momentum at the plate on Sunday.
- Brandon Pierce earned his first save of the season by pitching 1.2 innings of shutout ball. While striking out batter out, he did allow three walks.
- The pitching staff WHIP over the weekend was 1.58, slightly worse than the current season average of 1.48, but the number continues to lower, and this must continue.
- Despite any pitching woes, the weekend’s 3.5 ERA shows that the Huskers have avoided giving up clutch hits at this point. The staff’s season ERA currently sits at 3.88.
- Tyler Niederklein, one of last season’s most reliable pitchers, has struggled in transitioning to a closer role before bouncing back to a starter’s. His ERA of 8.04 easily reflects these early season struggles. It seems that coaches Silva and Erstad still want to continue allowing him to work through his slump, regardless of his place as the fourth starter.
- It will be interesting to see the three-game conference rotation for Illinois this weekend. Zach Hirsch has been starting game one of series, but his 5.54 ERA doesn’t match that of game two’s Jon Keller (3.72) or game three’s Tom Lemke (2.95). Several Big Ten teams have one solid ace which means Nebraska will want to be sure to have its best pitching performance on the mound each Friday night.
- The Huskers only committed two errors on the weekend, and the season fielding percentage has inched up to .982.
- Nebraska will play two mid-week games at Haymarket Park against former coach Mike Anderson’s alma mater Northern Colorado. The Bears roster includes former Nebraska commit Taylor Anderson, the son of the former Husker coach.
- Friday’s game against Illinois will be aired nationally on the Big Ten Network and on BTN.com/BTN 2Go.