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A ‘Freak of Nature,’ That’s What Husker Pitcher Shane Komine Was

April 14, 2020

Take Me Out to the Ballgame is a multi-part series looking back at Nebraska baseball’s rise to College World Series contenders. | Part One, Part Two

When Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne hired Dave Van Horn as head baseball coach, he said he expected the development of the program to be more marathon than sprint. Van Horn and staff’s ability to recruit reversed those running images. As already noted, it was more of a sprint.

Sometimes recruiting is enhanced by chance. And you might say there was an element of that in the recruitment of pitcher Shane Komine, a freshman in 1999.

First, Nebraska played games in Hawaii in 1998, Van Horn’s first season at Nebraska. Then, one of Komine’s coaches at Kalani High School in Honolulu suggested Van Horn and pitching coach Rob Childress take time to watch Komine pitch.

“Talking to them, they were real enthusiastic about the school,” Komine said before the start of his freshman season at Nebraska. “I liked the coaches, everything up here is real nice.”

Van Horn, in particular, liked what he saw, despite Komine’s size. He was listed a 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds as a freshman, and he weighed less than that as a high school senior. 

Size notwithstanding, “he’s got very good mechanics and just a quick arm that allows him to throw with such great velocity and maintain it for quite a while,” said Childress.

Plus, “he’s a very mature young man,” Childress said.

Despite those positives, many colleges apparently couldn’t look beyond his size.

“I didn’t have too many offers from any schools,” said Komine.

During the fall, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 16-to-1.

“He’s gone out and thrown strikes with four pitches,” said Childress. “His velocity is going to be anywhere from 88 to 91. He’s just gotten outs ever since he’s been here.”

Junior first baseman/designated hitter Ken Harvey, referring to a story in the Daily Nebraskan, described Komine as a “freak of nature,” and “that’s exactly what he is.”

Komine’s recruitment reflected Nebraska’s overall recruiting success during Van Horn’s too-brief tenure. Komine holds numerous Nebraska records, including career marks for innings pitched (431), complete games (18), starts (59), wins (41) and strikeouts (510).

His career record was 41-8 with a 2.84 earned-run-average.

During his four seasons the Huskers went to four NCAA regionals, three super-regionals and the first two College World Series in school history.

But first, his freshman season, 1999, Van Horn’s second as coach. 

“He’ll get an opportunity early, and he is going to gain a lot of valuable experience this year,” Van Horn was quoted in the 1999 media guide.

“For us to have a good season we need Shane to have a good season.”

Komine would, despite missing time because of lower-back problems, which worsened and hampered him late in the season. He finished 6-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 78 innings.

He made 18 appearances, 11 starts, and had two saves. The Big 12 coaches named him conference freshman of the year, and he was a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.

The season got off to a slow start for him, however. He was named the first-game starter against New Mexico State at the Showdown in the Desert in Phoenix, but the Huskers needed 5.1 innings of one-earned-run relief from left-hander Scott Fries, a transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, and a rally from a 5-1 deficit, including five runs in the final two innings, to win 9-6.

Recruiting was an important factor in Nebraska’s reaching a fourth NCAA regional in school history—there were two other NCAA Tournament appearances under a different format.

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