Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Finding Leaders, Pitchers with Mound Presence Key for Husker Baseball

October 19, 2021

With the Red’s 7-1 win over the White last Wednesday at Haymarket Park, the bulk of Nebraska baseball’s fall season ended. The three intrasquad scrimmages helped give head coach Will Bolt an an idea of what he’s got to work with as the Huskers look to defend their Big Ten Conference title from last season.

Bolt said he didn’t use the Red-White Series to see who accumulated the best stats, like batting average and earned-run average. Instead, he used it as a way to see who possesses the intangibles that make winning baseball teams.

With all four captains from the 2021 team gone in Joe Acker, Mojo Hagge, Jaxon Hallmark and Spencer Schwellenbach, who are the players Bolt can rely on? That’s what he and his coaching staff want to find out, and the fall portion of their offseason was a good place to start.

“It’s so much less to do with the physical aspect of it, as who can show up every day,” Bolt said. “Who can show up and have a competitive spirit every day. That part of it I’m much more concerned about than what a guy’s ERA or batting average is in the fall. When I say I don’t care about that, I mean that 100 percent. That kind of stuff doesn’t really matter because there are so many guys who are going to work on things and they’re going to be totally different from a physical standpoint come spring.”

One of the bigger question marks headed into the 2022 season is the pitching staff. Nebraska will be without Cade Povich, Chance Hroch, Schwellenbach, Max Schieber and Cam Wynne. Povich and Hroch pitched the most innings in a season that saw an NCAA Regional appearance. Schwellenbach threw the fifth-most.

Bolt wanted to use the Red-White Series to see who had mound presence, and he mentioned guys like Jackson Brockett, Chandler Benson and Emmett Olson. In game three, Bockett pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts while Benson struck out Jadon Arakaki to end the game. Olson was lights out in the Red’s win, striking out seven batters against just two walks and one earned run in seven innings. Olson also gave up just two hits. 

“You saw some guys who were able to control their at-bats, so those are the things that I’m looking at,” Bolt said. “Ultimately, everybody plays in the fall, everybody gets to hit and everybody gets to pitch. So feeling that sense of urgency as a group is something we’re going to need to continue to work on.”

There might not be a better player to ask about mound presence than the one who works the most with the pitchers—catcher Griffin Everitt. The Lincoln Southwest product said, to him, mound presence is getting on the bump and being ready to bring the fight to the batter right away.

“They’re not too worried about what the umpire is thinking—if he’s squeezing them or calling everything—you just get up there and attack the zone and trust that our defense is going to play good behind them,” Everitt said.

Everitt, who figures to make an impact on this season’s team, smacked a two-run homer off the White’s Caleb Feeken in game three. Feeken is one of his good friends.

“I might give him a hard time. But other than that, no, I won’t be running my mouth too much. I’m not one of those guys really,” Everitt said with a smile. 

The pitching staff isn’t the only area of the team with questions. Another deals with leadership. The Huskers brought in 18 new faces to the program, including 15 freshmen and three transfers.

Nebraska has good places to start with finding new leaders. Pitcher Kyle Perry and infielder Cam Chick have been in the program for a while and are starting to speak up more. Infielder Brice Matthews, too.

“They’re guys with good experience, have been here a while and know how we do it,” Everitt said of the trio. “All of us returners have done everything we can to get these new guys up to speed.”

Everitt, who owned a .287 batting average in 37 games last season, was hoping to gain more respect amongst his teammates this fall. He wants to be more of a leader of the team, too. More of a commander of the defense behind the plate. He feels he accomplished that.

“The coaches really wanted me to start being more vocal with the team, so that was kind of a big focus for me, being more vocal, speaking up and letting my voice be heard,” he said. “With this team, with so many new guys, I felt comfortable with that position because I’ve been through it. I went to Arkansas last year, we got great returners, so it’s just really getting those new guys up to speed.”

With so many new players in the program, what’s Everitt think of the freshmen? There are highly-touted guys like Elkhorn standout Drew Christo and outfielder Chase Mason, a multi-sport prep star from South Dakota. They can swing it and pitch it, Everitt said.

“Obviously we still have a little ways to go, but the strides that we’ve made since the start of the fall, I think those new guys are going to help contribute to this team’s success for sure,” Everitt said.

Up next for the Huskers is more offseason training until around Thanksgiving. There will be some skill instruction and team-building exercises. The goal is to keep gelling.

“Keep coming together as a team, not letting ourselves just fast track to the season,” Everitt said of the offseason. “We still have four weeks left and we’re going to grind through them and keep getting better every day.”

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