On Tuesday, Nebraska snapped a four-game losing streak with an offensive explosion, downing Kansas State in Manhattan 11-9. Three different Huskers hit home runs as Nebraska took advantage of several Wildcat mistakes to rack up 11 runs on just eight hits.
“It was nice as a team to get everybody rolling,” sophomore outfielder Mojo Hagge said. “Everybody was hitting, everybody was doing well and competing. Just having that competition as a team and battling, just like at Ohio State game three (a 15-14 loss), it just shows what we can do as an offense and what we should be doing consistently.”
The Huskers may have gotten the win, but Coach Darin Erstad is focused more on cleaning up some of Nebraska’s own mistakes that made the game more competitive than it could have been; he’s focused more on the process than the results.
The next step in that process is a weekend series against Iowa (20-10) at Haymarket Park. However, like it has been a handful of times over the last few weeks, the weather could be a problem.
With the forecast calling for cold temperatures and potentially snow on Saturday, the Huskers and Hawkeyes will play a double-header on Friday (first game at 2:05 p.m., second at 6 p.m.) while game three of the series will be on either Saturday or Sunday depending on the weather. The Huskers have already had one game canceled and two postponed this month.
“We’re just getting ready for the weather,” Hagge said. “It’s not going to be ideal, but we haven’t played in ideal weather yet this year so we’ve gotten used to it and we’re ready to take advantage of a team that’s not ready to play in it.”
According to Erstad, Luis Alvarado will start game one on the mound while Matt Waldron starts game two. Matt Warren is slated to start in game three — if it happens — but Erstad said they could use him out of the bullpen if they need him to get a win on Friday.
“From our standpoint, we’ll try to win the first one and if you’re behind by a lot, you’ll probably start to have to manage it for the second one,” Ersatz said about managing his pitching staff during a double-header. “It’s one of those things where we’ll go after the first game and see what happens from there.”
The pitching staff has been ravaged by injuries and has gone through a lot of struggles throughout the season, but catcher Jesse Wilkening said he’s tried to stay even-keeled in his communication with the guys on the mound.
“I’ve had a lot of guidance from Coach [Mike] Kirby and Coach [Ted] Silva. They’ve helped me a lot with that in the past. Everything is the same — go out there with the same attitude. Every guy is different with how you talk to them. It just depends, some guys it’s more pumped up and other guys it’s more calm, it just depends.”
The bullpen did get a boost when Jake McSteen and Reece Eddins returned from injury during Nebraska’s series against Michigan State last weekend. Eddins underwent Tommy John surgery last season.
“I was fired up,” Wilkening said. “I was so excited to see Reece come out after a year or so, almost to the day I think. He had a big smile on his face and I couldn’t help it either. And Jake McSteen, he’s been battling that arm thing, so that was super exciting for everybody. I was super-pumped for him and gave him a hug after the game, said ‘welcome back.’”
According to Erstad, shortstop Angelo Altavilla will be available after missing some time with a hamstring injury.
“Of course, he wants to play every inning of every game,” Erstad said. “I don’t know if being out for 10 days then playing a double-header is the right thing to do, so I’m still talking to him about that, but we’ll use him in some regard; it just depends on which games.”
Infielder Brison Cronenbold remains out with a stress reaction that Erstad said hasn’t gotten any better.
“They’re a solid ball club,” Erstad said about the Hawkeyes. “They’ve always been well-coached, they take care of the baseball, they really don’t give you much from a free-pass standpoint so we’re going to have to generate a lot of our own offense. Wind’s going to be howling out so I’m sure we’re going to take some lumps and hopefully deliver some as well. They get lined up and get on schedule, they’re pretty darn good when they’re laying with a lead. We’re just going to have to go out, play our game and be sharp. We’re going to have to not be reactive to what they’re doing; we have to get on them and put a little pressure on them and make them feel uncomfortable.”
Wilkening said he doesn’t pay too much attention to what the rest of the league is doing, but he does hope to see plenty of fans out at Haymarket Park on Friday as the Huskers take on the team that knocked them out of last year’s Big ten Tournament.
“I don’t know really how they’re doing; I don’t look into it that much,” Wilkening said. “I kind of just stay with our own team, our own club. It’s always a dog fight, it’s always a great series to come out and watch, first off, because it’s a rival, so it’s a lot of fun to play in and hopefully [we can get] a little redemption for last year.”
Speaking of the Tournament, at 2-6 in conference play and 15-16 overall, the Huskers have a lot of work to do just to qualify for the postseason. However, Erstad’s style is to focus on the day at hand and the team isn’t even talking about the tournament which will be held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha this year.
“We just want to come out every day playing like it’s the Big Ten Tournament, competing like it’s a regional,” Hagge said. “We just want to give it our best every day and if we go to the Big Ten Tournament, great; if we win the Big Ten Tournament, great; if we win the CWS, that’s great. But we just need to come out every day ready to go and compete like it’s our last.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.