First Up
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

First Up, Yale; No Looking Beyond That for Huskers

June 02, 2017

So yes, Jake Meyers will be the starting pitcher when Nebraska (35-20-1) opens NCAA regional play against Yale (32-16) on Friday in Corvallis, Oregon.

Coach Darin Erstad wouldn’t commit to that before the team left on Wednesday. But now it’s official, barring the unexpected, of course. You just never know.

To this point, Meyers had been the Sunday starter.

The junior left-hander is 8-1 with a 3.09 earned-run-average and has walked only nine in 78.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts. The victories have come over his last nine starts.

He’s also pitched at least six innings in eight of those starts.

Yale will counter with its most successful pitcher, sophomore right-hander Scott Politz, who’s 10-2 with a 3.47 ERA, 69 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 83 innings.

He has pitched six complete games in his 12 starts.

At tournament time for sure, teams can’t afford to look beyond their first game.

In addition, “you’ve got to take some chances somewhere, without a doubt,” Erstad said on Wednesday. “One of our biggest things . . . you see sometimes in these settings the abuse of pitchers. Our whole staff, we just do not believe in that stuff. So we’re going to be smart about pitch counts. We’re going to be smart about how we use guys.”

That’s been the approach throughout a season in which Nebraska has lost several pitchers to injury, most recently sophomore right-hander Ethan Frazier, who started in place of Meyers in the Huskers’ third game at the Big Ten Tournament against Maryland.

Frazier pitched 1.1 innings before leaving the game with a muscle tear that will require surgery.

Meyers didn’t pitch, or hit, because of a back issue.

In any case, according to Erstad, the question in tournament play is: “Do you have a plan? But after the first day, who knows what happens?”

With where the Huskers are “depth-wise pitching, we are going to be creative,” he said. “And we are going to find a way not just to win a couple of games; we’re going to go for the whole thing.”

Meyers will face a Yale team that is hitting .291. Benny Wagner is batting .352 with eight home runs and 48 runs-batted-in, Richard Slenker .345 with four home runs and 39 RBIs.

Griffin Dey, who plays first base as well as pitches, has hit 10 home runs. As a pitcher, he’s 6-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 18 appearances, all except two in relief.

Nebraska is hitting .282 as a team, led by Scott Schreiber’s .335 with six home runs and 50 RBIs. Angelo Altavilla (.325), Ben Miller (.305) and Meyers (.302) are the other regulars hitting over .300. But no Husker has been hotter at the plate than Jake Schleppenbach. The senior second baseman is batting .472 over the last 10 games, with two home runs and eight RBIs.

He’s raised his average to .290, after struggling to get to .200 early in the season.

“There was definitely times where I felt like I didn’t have my swing,” said Schleppenbach. “I mean, (at) Minnesota, I didn’t get any hits that week. It’s tough, but you just keep swinging and keep trying to put good at-bats together and eventually it should start finding some holes and coming around.”

That’s what Nebraska will need up and down the order to have a chance to advance out of a regional in which the top national seed, Oregon State, is the host.

The Beavers are 49-4 and have lost only once at home.

Considering that, it might be easy to look past Yale, which qualified as the Ivy League champion.

“They’re kids,” Erstad said. “Yes it concerns me tremendously. They’re on social media. Just imagine what’s being said to them. Fortunately with this group, we’re pretty focused on the pitch-to-pitch (approach). That’s why we do it, OK? You don’t look ahead to the game you’re going to play the next day or the one that’s already been played. We literally go pitch-to-pitch.

“And when you have that mentality, which they will, things usually get back into focus.”

Tracking the Tournament

  • Nebraska-Yale is scheduled for a 3 p.m. (CT) start and will be carried on ESPN3. Oregon State’s game against Holy Cross is set to start at 10 p.m. (CT), on ESPNU.
  • Friday’s losers will play an elimination game on Saturday at 3 p.m. (CT), with the first-round winners playing at 9 p.m. (CT).
  • Sunday’s schedule will include an elimination game at 3 p.m. (CT) and a second game involving that winner and Saturday’s second-game winner at 9 p.m. (CT).
  • Monday’s if-necessary game would start at 10 p.m. (CT).
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