Darin Erstad did some high-stepping into the midst of the locker-room celebration following Nebraska’s Big Ten title-clinching victory against Penn State on Saturday.
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“I’m not a big rewards guy,” said Erstad. But “just seeing their faces and looking them in the eyes in the locker room . . . I’m excited they got to experience that because they’ll have that moment for the rest of their lives together. This group will have that.
“So 10 years from now, 20 years from now, they’ll be able to relive that.”
Underscore 10 or 20 years from now. The Huskers were back to work on Monday morning, practicing in Columbus, Ohio – at Saint Charles Prep School – before heading to Bloomington, Indiana, for the Big Ten Tournament.
The ability to move forward, focus on the next task, has characterized Erstad’s sixth team.
“Regardless of whether things are going well or things are going bad, they just keep grinding it out,” Erstad said during a conference call Monday morning. “Just get to the next pitch. They’re fully committed to the pitch, and then whatever happens they go play the next pitch. They don’t let things snowball, and they’ve done a real good job of doing that throughout the season.”
The Huskers opened the season with only two victories in their first eight games and lost an early non-conference series at home against Western Carolina.
They started strong in Big Ten play, with two wins and a tie at Indiana and a series victory against Maryland at home, before dropping two of three against Iowa, also at Hawks Field.
They won the remaining conference series – and the title.
But the title-clincher was Saturday. The focus now is “what did we do to get there,” said Erstad. “Definitely that feeling of winning is great. But we’ve got to get back to business.
“We’ve started that process, and we’ll be there by Wednesday for sure.”
The Huskers play Purdue at 4 p.m. (CT) on Wednesday.
Throughout the season, Erstad talked about the team’s having more offensive potential than it had shown. It showed that at Penn State, and not just in the 21-3 third game.
Even in Thursday’s 8-7 loss, “I thought we squared up a lot of balls against a very good pitcher,” Erstad said, referring to the Nittany Lions’ junior right-hander Sal Biasi. “I liked our approach. I thought we did a nice job swinging and handling certain counts.
“We really battled that first game and got the pitch count up to get him out of there in the fifth.”
Biasi made 103 pitches in five innings.
In the second game, a 3-1 victory, Justin Hagenman “just threw tremendous,” said Erstad. Hagenman allowed seven hits and two earned runs in eight innings, 114 pitches.
“We had our hands full in that game,” Erstad said. “I just thought we did a good job overall of handling that, and just continued to go on Saturday as well.”
The Huskers have finished second in the Big Ten regular season three times in Erstad’s five previous seasons and second in the conference tournament in two of those seasons. They came within a half game of regular-season champion Minnesota a year ago.
Erstad knows about celebrations. He was a key member of the Anaheim Angels’ World Series championship team in 2002 – he batted .300 in the series, with six runs scored.
“It’s special when you get to be part of a team accomplishment,” he said.
In this case, he was talking about his players. But check out his high-stepping. He was excited, too.
- Mojo Hagge was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after hitting .462 against Penn State. Among his six hits were a triple – his third of the season – and a double. He raised his batting average to .281 and drove in three runs.
- The last Husker to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors was pitcher Matt Waldron on May 24 last season. Waldron has struggled of late. He was 2-5 with a 4.50 earned-run-average going into the Penn State series. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief on Saturday, allowing one hit and striking out one with no walks. “He was dealing with some shoulder discomfort,” said Erstad. “We didn’t even have him available for a couple of weeks there, so it was good to get him back on the dirt and throwing again.” He’ll be “full strength” for the tournament.
- Scott Schreiber continues to lead the Husker regulars in hitting (.335), extra-base hits (20), home runs (5), RBIs (46) and slugging percentage (.483). Angelo Altavilla is second in hitting (.323) and RBIs (37). Nebraska is now hitting .280 as a team.
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.