Huskers Bus to Minneapolis for Key Big Ten Series
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Bus to Minneapolis for Key Big Ten Series

April 21, 2017

The large black bus with Blackshirt skull-and-bones logos on both sides
and “Blackshirts” on the back pulled out of the parking lot outside the
Nebraska baseball offices at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Some Huskers
might have been playing cards before the bus reached the interstate,
most likely pitch, to pass the time, about six-and-a-half hours. They
were headed to Minneapolis for a three-game Big Ten series against
Minnesota, more accurately a crucial series with the conference leader.

Despite
losing two-of-three to Indiana last weekend, the Gophers (22-10, 7-2)
remain atop the standings, which are determined by winning percentage.
Nebraska (21-14-1, 5-3-1) is fourth, after dropping two-of-three to
Iowa.

Friday’s first game, with a 6:30 p.m. start, will match the
Huskers’ Jake Hohensee against Minnesota’s junior left-hander Lucas
Gilbreath, who’s 4-0 with a 2.28 earned-run average. He has struck out
50 in 43.1 innings. Batters have hit only .175 against him. Hohensee is
4-2 with a 3.06 ERA.

The Gophers are the second-best hitting team in the Big Ten, with a .292 team average.
Minnesota’s
RPI is 48, Nebraska’s 50. Even so, Husker Coach Darin Erstad offered an
animated and oft-repeated answer to a question about his team’s needing
to step up because of the series’ significance.

“That doesn’t
matter to me,” he said. “You start putting more significance on one game
more than another, what are you going to do? Try harder? Play better?
Shouldn’t you do that all the time? I mean, it makes no sense to me.
You’re letting an outside circumstance dictate how you’re going to play
the game. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s not how
consistency’s built.

“It’s not like, ‘Hey, it’s a big series. OK, let’s put on our cape and go hit nine homers that we haven’t hit all year.’”

Nebraska ranks last in the Big Ten with 10 home runs.

“My
mind doesn’t work that way,” said Erstad. “So we have to be able to go
out there and stay within ourselves, not try and do too much, play our
game. We worry about how we go about our business, playing for our
family and approaching every game exactly the same.

“When you respect the game like that it’s going to reward you.”

Angelo
Altavilla, who’s third on the team with a .304 batting average and
second with 23 runs-batted-in, is among five Minnesotans on Nebraska’s
roster. He’s from Lakeville. The others are sophomore Robbie Palkert
(Golden Valley), freshmen Luke Roskam (Chaska) and Jeff Athey (Eden
Prairie), and junior Zac Repinski (Prior Lake).

“I’ll have a lot of friends and family there,” said Altavilla. “And just going home makes it that much more special.”

But he echoed Erstad in talking about the importance of the series.

“You
definitely do get amped up for these weekends,” Altavilla said. “But
you’ve just got to take it as any other weekend, as if we’re playing
Northwestern or Rutgers, who aren’t playing so well now.”

He
knows “probably four or five” Minnesota players,  he said. “You play
with them growing up and you know some tendencies that they have.”

Those tendencies can be passed along to the coaches.

He and those he knows have “been kind of jawing at each other,” said Altavilla, “friendly jawing.”

If,
for some reason, the bus driver were to lose his way, Altavilla could
help find the way to Minnesota’s Siebert Field. He played there in high
school.

DULY NOTED

  • Pitching problems
    continue. Freshman left-hander Connor Curry “dropped a weight on his toe
    at the rec center and broke his toe,” Erstad said. “So he’s out, had a
    pin put in there.”
  • Junior right-hander Zack Engelken, who has
    been sidelined all season with arm issues, still can’t return. “(We)
    thought we’d have him in 10 days, ready to go,” said Erstad. “Apparently
    he had a setback today. I don’t have an up-date on that, but that’s not
    promising.”
  • Minnesota’s roster includes a Nebraskan, junior
    right-handed pitcher Jackson Rose, from Omaha Westside High School – the
    same as Huskers Jake Meyers and Matt and Mike Waldron. “He’s a good
    buddy of mine,” said Meyers. “I haven’t seen him in a little bit. I’m
    excited to see him.”
  • Meyers, who will start Sunday’s game, is 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA.
  • Husker
    first baseman Ben Miller has reached base in 20 consecutive games.
    Freshman outfielder Mojo Hagge had a 21-game on-base streak earlier this
    season.
  • Miller and Luis Alvarado have both hit over .400 over
    the last 10 games. Alvarado hit .459 during that stretch and leads
    Nebraska with a .317 average. Miller, who is batting .277 overall, is
    the Huskers’ leading hitter in Big Ten games with a .439 average.
    Alvarado is second at .429.
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