LINCOLN, Neb. – After winning 3-2 over the Omaha Mavericks on Wednesday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are 23-7 while sitting a perfect 3-0 in Big Ten play. Head coach Darin Erstad and company has turned in a remarkable midseason performance.
Posting a 22-7 record at the end of March, NU has now registered its largest win total as a team, before the month of April, since 2005 when the Huskers began the season 22-3.
Ranked No. 19 in our College Baseball Central Top 25 poll, NU has compiled a 9-1 record over its last 10 games (18-3 since the start of March).
A two-time MLB All-Star, and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Erstad and his Huskers have clearly staked their claim at the head of the B1G standings by way of their dominant pitching.
“It’s all coach Silva,” Erstad clarified. “He just is tremendous with the pitching staff, and he understands from a recruiting standpoint what we are looking for, and how to develop them. He’s had a great year on the west coast developing pitchers, and I was fortunate enough to convince him to come to Lincoln. Pitching and defense gives you a chance to win, if you can throw strikes, make those pitches and take care of the baseball you got a chance, and we are doing those things right now.”
Pitching coach Ted Silva has done a masterful job with both the starting rotation and the bullpen. The weekend trio of Chance Sinclair, Kyle Kubat, and Derek Burkamper, has stayed on the mound deep into games, and has a record of 12-4.
Tuesday night starter freshman Garett King (Anaheim Hills, Calif./Orange Lutheran) has pulled his weight as well, the right-hander pitched big Tuesday against Creighton going a career high 8.0 innings to improve to 3-0, and rang up five strikeouts while only giving up two hits and no walks.
“Garett is a strike throwing machine,” Erstad said. “He’s got a feel for all his pitches and when he gets stronger he is going to be pretty special.”
Showing stubborn and stingy resolve, the NU pitching staff has only given up three runs in 25 of their 30 games, sporting a 23-2 record when they hold opponents to three runs or less.
Josh Roeder, Colton Howell, and Jeff Chesnut have been as good as anyone in the nation out of the bullpen.
Roeder, who has nine saves on the year, has 27 saves on his career (second in school history), five more and he breaks the school record.
Howell has fanned 21 batters while only giving up six base-on-balls over 17 IP.
Chestnut (4-0), maintains an ominous 0.83 ERA, and has struck out 14 batters over the course of 21.2 innings.
Nebraska’s team batting average is .278, although they started off at a pedestrian pace, the Husker bats have experienced a warm up as they have entered conference play.
“We started off slow,” admits Erstad. “We have a couple of seniors that were just trying so hard to get off to a great start their senior year, and it just didn’t work out that way. But they are starting to quietly creep back up and do their thing. We haven’t reached our potential with the offense yet and that’s coming.”
Senior Tanner Lubach started off slumping in 2015 going 0-for-18; however, with a near-home-run double against BYU on Feb. 21, Lubach has started to bring the average up. The slugging talent is now batting .355 going 22-for-62 over the last 20 games since breaking out of the slump.
Actually, Nebraska has four hitters that are batting over .300 on the year and trends are pointing towards an up rise in hitting performance.
Ryan Boldt (.339), Ben Miller (.325), Jak Schleppenbach (.308), and Blake Headly (.306) are together leading the NU counter attack at the plate.
Boldt is now back in the leadoff spot and since his return to that spot NU has gone 10-1. With Boldt batting in the third spot in the lineup 15 out of the first 19 games, the team was 9-6. Correspondingly, NU was 22-7 with Boldt in the leadoff spot in 2014.
Miller a sophomore, has 37 hits and 23 RBIs, and has shown he can rake in any situation.
“He can just hit,” Erstad chuckled speaking of Miller. “He’s got great hand eye coordination, and he is very smart at the plate. He knows what pitchers are trying to do to him, he can use the whole field, and the man can just hit.”
Big Ten baseball is capturing a lot of national attention with so much parity in the conference. The B1G Teams are equally matched, and although Nebraska holds the lead in the standings, everyone is clipping at their heels.
“We are going to just do what we do,” Erstad clarified. “We are going to just go out and do our thing. I am more concerned about how we go out and approach the game of baseball. I don’t put any more significance over one game than another or one series over another and it doesn’t get any deeper than that.”
NU will compete in their first Big Ten road series of the year this weekend with a three-game series against the No. 23 Maryland Terrapins (19-7, 4-2 Big Ten) in College Park, Md. This will mark the first ever meeting between the two teams.