Nebraska hit only .202 as a team its first weekend in Tempe, Arizona. But Coach Darin Erstad isn’t lamenting that statistic, and not just because the Huskers won three of four.
“I’m not looking at batting average,” Erstad said before Tuesday’s practice. “I’m looking at the quality of at-bats, and I thought we grinded it out pretty good.”
Nebraska batters did well with two-strike counts, according to Erstad. Also, they drew 20 walks and were hit by pitches seven times, while striking out 30 times.
“That is a ratio we’re going to take,” he said. “It’s something that we talked a lot about, how we don’t hit for enough power to just go up there and strike out four times for every one walk.”
The Huskers had only two home runs over the weekend, though in a large ballpark. Jesse Wilkening and Scott Schreiber hit the home runs, and led the team in average as well. Wilkening hit .429 and drove in eight runs. Schreiber batted .357. Angelo Altavilla hit .286.
Nebraska’s baserunners also took advantage of opportunities to advance. “Our ‘dirtball’ reads, I mean, they obviously have been paying attention in practice,” said Erstad.
“Outside of our awful bunting in situations and runner-at-second-and-nobody-out execution, getting a guy over, we put ourselves in position to score some runs. Did we get the hits with runners in scoring position? We didn’t. But that’s awesome because that stuff evens itself out over time.
“We have plenty of opportunities to do that, and we had some quality at-bats; we just didn’t find the holes or get a hit. But as far as getting guys on . . . it shows that we can score some runs.”
The Huskers return to Arizona this weekend for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Surprise. They’re scheduled to play Oregon State on Thursday and Saturday, Utah on Friday and Sunday.
Thursday’s game is set for a 2 p.m. CT first pitch.
Oregon State, 3-0, is ranked No. 2 nationally, behind Florida. Even so, “if we’re letting our opponent affect how we’re going to approach a game, we’ve got big issues,” Erstad said.
“So I couldn’t care less who we’re playing; we’re going to go out and play our game. Yeah, are they (the Beavers) good? Of course they’re good. So’s Utah . . . (but) you start letting those external things dictate how you’re going to get up for a game . . . that’s just not how you get ready to play.”
Erstad said he wasn’t “ready to release” his starting rotation for the weekend.
Last weekend’s starters Jake McSteen, Nate Fisher and Matt Warren went five innings. Luis Alvarado, the No. 1 starter, went 4.2 innings, striking out nine, walking only one and allowing a single run on four hits. McSteen allowed only two hits and no runs to earn a victory in the second game.
Robbie Palkert and Matt Waldron picked up the other wins in relief. Palkert also saved McSteen’s victory and didn’t allow a run in two appearances, 4.2 innings. The junior from Golden Valley, Minnesota, will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
Zack Engelken, who’s coming back from a shoulder problem that sidelined him last season, was slated to throw live on Tuesday and go with the team to Surprise.
“Apparently I’ve got to set my travel roster,” said Erstad, “can’t do it last second and change air flights anymore, so he’s coming regardless (of what happened Tuesday). So he’s either going to have a great vacation or he’s going to hopefully help us, one of the two.”
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.