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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

After 51-Week Wait, Nebraska Baseball Ready to Take the Diamond Again

March 04, 2021

Chance Hroch is working on his mustache. He’s been growing it for a while, with the curls on each side. The plan is to make it as “Rollie Fingers-esque” as possible.

Fingers was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers.

If that reference isn’t sufficient to envision Hroch’s work-in-progress black moustache, how about the one on Agatha Christie’s Inspector Hercule Poirot? Either will work.

“If I start throwing poorly, then I’ll shave it off,” Hroch said.

Hroch is a graduate transfer pitcher on the Nebraska baseball team. The right-hander is from Temecula, California, by way of four years at New Mexico State. He’s part of what Coach Will Bolt expects to be a deep pitching staff, a starter to begin the season.

Begin the season, that’s the order of the day. The Huskers, who last played on March 11, 2020, before COVID-19 shut things down, are slated to open a four-game series against Purdue on Friday at Dell Diamond Stadium in Round Rock, Texas. Game one is set for 3 p.m.

Nebraska’s 44-game schedule over 13 weeks includes only Big Ten opponents, with this weekend and next at neutral sites. Next weekend two games each against Ohio State and Iowa are scheduled for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Huskers don’t open at home until March 26.

Because of COVID, “we’ve made it pretty clear with our team if there’s ever been a year where one through 38 need to be ready to play and ready to contribute and ready to help win, this is the year,” said Bolt. “We’ve been harping on that.”

Since last fall.

Sophomore right-hander Colby Gomes isn’t among the 38.

“He’s not going to have a chance to compete this spring,” said Bolt. “Without going into too many specifics, he just wasn’t able to come back from a previous injury in the fall.”

And the pitching staff is diminished by his absence.

“There’s not really anybody, I guess, that can replace him,” sophomore left-hander Cade Povich said. “But we have guys that are going to be able to step up for that opportunity.

“And I think we might be in a lot better situation than we were last year, as far as guys who have come back better or newcomers that are kind of stepping up.”

As far as depth, “I think we’re in a pretty good spot,” said Povich.

Which is especially important with four-game series.

There will be “more opportunities for innings pitched,” Bolt said.

Povich pitched 21.1 innings in four starts during the brief 2020 season, striking out 26 and walking only two. But he allowed 28 hits and had a 5.06 earned-run-average.

He’s added a cutter and “worked on kind of getting all my pitches to be more consistent throughout each outing,” said Povich, who has also worked on locating pitches on the edge of the strike zone.

Last season, “unfortunately, some of those pitches were more over the plate than we wanted (them) to be and were probably the reason for some of the runs,” he said.

Hroch was 2-1 with a 4.68 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 25 innings in 2020, after a stellar 2019 season in which he was 10-1 with a 2.74 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 85.1 innings.

The Huskers have practiced outside of late, including 18 innings of scrimmaging at Den Hartog Field in Lincoln, a Lincoln high school field with artificial turf, as well as workouts inside Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. They’re working out twice in Round Rock before playing Purdue.

In dealing with the threat of COVID, “there’s a pretty tight bubble we’ve asked our guys to be in since fall, limiting their access to people that aren’t inside our bubble,” said Bolt.

Even so, “I would be surprised if we make it through the entire season in our conference-only games and play all 44 games without any issues from any teams,” he said.

“It’s just unfortunately that’s what the last calendar year has shown us. Am I worried about it? Yeah. It makes me stay up at night sometimes thinking about it.”

As far as preparing, however, “as a player, practices (are) not really different,” Hroch said. “Just show up, get your work in. It’s been a bit different with group work and that sort of thing. But as far as getting ready to pitch, I mean, I’ve thrown my bullpens normal time.”

Of course, when he pulls up the gaiter, his Rollie Fingers/Poirot mustache is covered.

It’s the best on the team, “for now,” said Hroch.

“I think if (senior co-captain) Mojo (Hagge) tried to beat me, he would beat me in about three days. But as of this moment I think it is.”

UPDATE (March 4): Cade Povich is scheduled to start the opening game of 2021 season on Friday, beginning at 3 p.m.

He’ll be followed by Chance Hroch and sophomore right-hander Shay Schanaman, a reliever last season, in a Saturday double-header, while junior left-hander Jake Bunz, a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is slated to start Sunday’s 10 a.m. game. The first game of Saturday’s double-header, also set to start at 10 a.m., will be seven innings, the others nine.

All of the games will be televised by BTN-Plus.

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