Never mind that Nebraska has already wrapped up the Big Ten title. Don’t expect the Huskers to approach this weekend’s regular-season ending series at Haymarket Park to be any different.
Rather, expect what Nebraska “has been about all year,” Will Bolt said during Wednesday’s Zoom conference. In his words, “just show up and be our best today.”
The Huskers at their best are 29-11. Michigan, the Big Ten coaches’ preseason favorite, is 26-15 and tied with Maryland for second in conference. The math is simple enough: even if the Wolverines were to sweep the three-game series, they’d be a half-game short.
That seems unlikely considering Nebraska has won eight in a row and nine of its last 10—and yes, after being swept by Rutgers, at home.
But the focus is there. Fans will be there. And the senior class will be honored before Sunday’s game, set to start at noon, the same as Friday’s and Saturday’s games.
All three will be telecast on the Big Ten Network.
The seniors are: Joe Acker, Logan Foster, Mojo Hagge, Jaxon Hallmark, Gunner Hellstrom, Chance Hroch, Trey Kissack, Luke Roskam and Max Schreiber.
Others, including draftable junior Spencer Schwellenbach in particular, might be making their final appearance at Hawks Field. So emotion will be involved. Understandably.
Senior leadership, “probably the A-number-one biggest part of a healthy culture with any sports organization,” said Bolt, “is how the older guys treat the younger guys.”
They need to be “very invested in each other’s successes,” he said. “And that’s what this team has showed all year long, is that they’re willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
“And we always tell ‘em, ‘Nobody’s going to remember what your batting average was, even two years after you’re done playing. Nobody’s going to care. And your teammates are certainly not going to remember five or 10 years from now. But they’re going to remember how good a teammate you were; they’re going to remember how invested they were in your success.’
“So those are things that good teams have.”
In the present, from the outside anyway, numbers reflect the Huskers’ success, too. They’re hitting .282 as a team, tops in the Big Ten, led by Hallmark’s .343 and freshman Max Anderson’s .341. Five Huskers have 30 or more runs-batted-in, led by Schwellenbach with 35 and Roskam with 33.
Roskam is hitting .314 and is seventh in the Big Ten with a .455 on-base-percentage.
Cade Povich, Friday’s starter, is 5-1 with a 3.12 earned-run-average. He was the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week two weeks ago. He has struck out 70 in 66.1 innings with 14 walks.
Hroch, who is scheduled to start Saturday’s game, was last week’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. He’s also 5-1, with a 4.08 ERA, with 55 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 68.1 innings.
Schwellenbach has seven saves and a 0.75 ERA as the closer. Jake Bunz has been dominant in 13 relief appearances, after three starts, and is 2-1 with one save and a 2.03 ERA.
The staff has allowed the fewest walks in the conference. The Huskers are first in the Big Ten in sacrifice bunts (31) and second in stolen bases (62). And so the numbers go . . .
Nebraska has done whatever’s necessary to win, day-in and day-out, one game at a time. That’s the approach this weekend, leading into Monday’s NCAA announcement of regional assignments. The Huskers have been projected as a No. 2 seed, with Michigan the same going into this weekend.
“Our motivation is that we get to play baseball,” said Bolt. “These guys love to play.”
He had preceded that comment with “it’s kind of boring.”
Not if you’re 29-11 and Big Ten champs.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.