Derek Burkamper completed a brief interview following Nebraska’s 9-3 victory against Rutgers at Hawks Field on Saturday with: “Honestly, I’m like rattled. I don’t even know why.”
Maybe it was the handful of reporters asking about his performance as the Huskers’ starting pitcher. He went 6.1 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, both earned.
He certainly wasn’t rattled by Rutgers’ batters; quite the contrary.
“There was a lot of conviction behind his pitches today,” Coach Darin Erstad said.
The same could be said of his last start at Ohio State, coming on the heels of a 9-7 loss. Burkamper pitched five scoreless innings to earn the 3-1 victory and get Nebraska back on track.
The issue for him has been “repeating his starts,” following a good one with another good one.
“We challenged him early,” said Erstad. “We have to make sure we set the tone, and he was sharp right out of the gate. It was just huge. So that’s a credit to Derek.”
Burkamper didn’t allow a hit until the third inning, and the runs he allowed came on a two-out, two-run home run by the Scarlet Knights’ Jawuan Harris, his eighth of the season. By then, Nebraska had seven runs and, it appeared, the game under control, thanks to Burkamper.
“Today he was aggressive with his fastball, and yes, his breaking ball was sharp. You could see the height of his pitches. He was getting a lot of ground balls, good angle on his pitches. And his breaking ball was down,” said Erstad, who has repeated all season the importance of keeping the ball down.
That was the plan, according to Burkamper, “just attacking the zone and . . . have a good angle on my fastball and just try and get ground-ball outs. For the most part, I feel like I did pretty well.”
He was asked about “arm angle” and tried to demonstrate.
“Honestly, it’s just a term I’ve always used, so it creates the hitter to see it (the ball) in a way that they’re not going to get it up in the air,” Burkamper said.
Whether reporters could understand hardly mattered, of course.
Nebraska gained on Big Ten leader Maryland, which lost at Illinois 6-2 on Saturday. The Huskers’ victory was their fourth in a row, beginning with Burkamper’s at Ohio State.
Mojo Hagge led Nebraska’s 13-hit assault against four Rutgers pitchers, going 4-for-5. Jake Meyers, Angelo Altavilla and Scott Schreiber, the first three in the order, each scored two runs, and Ben Miller drove in two runs, going 2-for-4 – as did Schreiber.
Before Saturday’s game “Coach Erstad said, ‘You guys think you’re sweet,’ and all of us said no. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Burkamper. “We can’t just come out here and roll the dice and hope for a victory, so we’re confident we can win ballgames. But at the same time, we still need to come out with the mentality of winning and playing hard.
“I think we did a pretty good job of handling our business and just dominating.”
So he had no reason to be “rattled” or “afraid,” another word he used.
“I’ve got one more weekend here and then it’s done,” he said by way of explanation.
Burkamper, who left the game with one out in the seventh to a standing ovation, is among six seniors on the roster, and next weekend, he’ll start the second game of a series against Michigan State, his last appearance at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park.
“It feels like it’s been a real short time here,” he said.
“I don’t want it all to end. I’ve loved every minute of this. Personally, I feel like I’ve come a long way, and it’s just . . . this is everything I could hope for.”
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.