Brice Matthews went up to St. Cloud, Minnesota this summer with a few goals in mind for his personal development.
Playing for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League, the junior Husker said he wanted to see the ball better, take more walks, gain an improved understanding of his strike zone and know what he can and can’t do.
Looking at the stats, he seemed to have accomplished that progress. In 49 games played for the Rox, he drew 48 walks, ranking as one of the best players on the team in that regard. That was just one aspect of an overall successful summer for Matthews, as he was chosen for the Northwoods League All-Star Game and the 2022 Major League Dreams Showcase.
As he returns to Nebraska for the fall, he’s taking more from the experience than just statistics.
“I enjoyed getting to play every day and just learn how to compete when you’re not feeling your best,” he told media last week. “Just working on little things every day and knowing that you’re not going to be your best at 100% every day, but just working with what you got and that’s all that matters, is competing.”
The Huskers will look for Matthews’ improvement to carry over to the spring. He enter his third season in 2023, being one of three players who played as true freshman during head coach Will Bolt’s first full season in 2021 and are still with the team. Matthews had a strong first year, cracking the conference’s all-freshman team as well as the NCAA All-Fayetteville Region Team in the postseason.
Matthews feels he’s grown a lot since then. Some of that is literal — he said he’s seven pounds heavier now — but it also has to do with his mentality.
“I’m a lot more mature and more focused on being more present and allowing myself to see what’s going on through a different lens,” he said. “Just trying to not only help myself but help everybody else.”
Max Anderson, one of the other freshmen from 2021, arguably faces even bigger outside expectations. The 2021 Big Ten Freshman of the Year has been second on the team in batting average both of the last two seasons, and in 2022, he led the Huskers in home runs, runs batted in and slugging percentage.
He spent his summer with the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League, where he was an all-star for the second year in a row.
“I played in the Cape last year and it was a lot of fun and it’s a place that’s really fun to be and it’s always a good experience,” Anderson said. “I think it was a good thing for me to just go and play some baseball, have fun.”
Nebraska’s 2022 season wasn’t as much fun, at least in comparison to the 2021 NCAA Regionals appearance. The Huskers finished up a 23-30 campaign in May, one Anderson said he moved on from after the last few meetings of the spring.
“I mean, basically, you’re gonna fail and last year, we just kind of didn’t have it,” he said. “And so just working on trying not to think about that and working on thinking about this year.”
This year will feature a significant number of new faces for Nebraska as Bolt prioritized bringing in experienced talent from the transfer portal. Anderson said the team has meshed well together so far, and he’s learned the names of almost all of the 25 newcomers, save for a couple pitchers. Matthews also felt good about how the team has gotten along.
“It’s gone really well,” Matthews said. “I mean, we try to interact with everybody, hang out as much as we can off the field. Get to know each other. We’re a very athletic team. And since we’ve been here, everybody’s shown a lot of love to each other.”
While there are plenty of other long-tenured Huskers, some having been with Nebraska even before Bolt’s hiring, the two are embracing a leadership role in their third years.
There were a lot of evident similarities as the two described their leadership styles and what they want to see from the team this year. Both aim to lead by example, although they’ll speak up when needed. Anderson noted that this year’s squad is full of players who will put their heads down and work hard to get the job done. He wants the team’s mindset to be giving it their all and “not leaving anything left in the tank” when they come off the field. Matthews echoed that mindset when asked what he learned from last season.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” Matthews said. “Lay it all out there as much as you can. Give it everything you got. Because you don’t know when your last game could be your last game.”