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Huskers Hoping for a Lion’s Share from Columbia This Weekend

March 05, 2020

Never mind that Columbia, against whom the Nebraska baseball team will open its home season with a four-game series beginning on Friday, dropped a four-game, season-opening series at Fresno State.

Never mind that the Ivy League Lions were outscored 38-10 in those four games.

“Coach (Will) Bolt always preaches on . . . don’t look at the team you’re playing,” junior pitcher Paul Tillotson said. “Take every game and play it the way we practice, with the intensity and the mindset you always have. They’re always going to want to come out and beat you down.

“You can’t look at who you’re playing.”

Then there’s the fact that the Huskers have won just twice in nine games, although eight of those nine games have come against teams that are either ranked in the NCBWA poll or received votes. The second victory came on Sunday against Arizona State, ranked ninth this week.

Friday’s game is set for a 1:35 p.m. start, with sophomore left-hander Kyle Perry pitching for Nebraska. Gareth Stroh, the Huskers’ Friday-night starter the first two weekends, is still sidelined with an arm problem that kept him in Lincoln last weekend.

“Gareth’s getting better,” said Bolt. “He’s feeling a little bit better. I don’t have any kind of definitive answer as to when he’ll be back, but I know he’s chomping at the bit to get back. We just have to be sure he’s feeling pretty close to 100% before we get him out there.”

Colby Gomes and Cade Povich will again be the second- and third-game starters for Saturday’s double-header. Sunday’s starter had yet to be named on Thursday.

Nebraska also has home games against Northern Colorado scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday and then another four-game series at Wichita State next weekend.

“That’s a lot of games coming up,” Bolt said.

But he’s not looking past this weekend, or even past Friday.

That the opponent is 0-4 Columbia doesn’t matter. “I think that opportunity (winning) is there all the time, if you show up and compete the way we competed on Sunday,” he said. “We threw the ball over the plate. We didn’t hurt ourselves defensively. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is; you’re going to have a chance to win, and so our guys, we can’t overlook anybody.

“You’ve got to show up and earn it.”

Nebraska trailed Arizona State 5-0 after two innings on Sunday. But the Huskers scored six runs in the top of the third, the big hit a grand slam by freshman Leighton Banjoff, who would hit another home run in his next at-bat, add a double and drive in six runs to earn recognition as Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

The Huskers didn’t let up after the third, winning 18-10 to snap a seven-game losing streak.

Banjoff’s grand slam was important in a larger context as well.

“I think that’s kind of one of the things we’ve been searching for in these games where either we’ve had the lead or the game’s kind of been in-balance in the middle innings and you just need a play to get you off the field or a big strikeout on the mound or a big swing at the bat,” said Bolt. “We’d seen one of those with (Aaron) Palensky earlier in the year when we needed it.”

Palensky hit a grand slam in a five-run fifth at Baylor when the Huskers had trailed 6-1.

For Banjoff “to step up as a freshman in that spot, work himself to a 2-0 count . . . he didn’t miss his fastball. It was big,” Bolt said.

Nebraska needs more of that play, from pitchers as well as hitters.“I want to start becoming the team that we need to become right now,” said Bolt. “You could probably look at it and go, ‘Well, we probably should be 4-5 at minimum, maybe 5-4 with a different play here and there. But that’s in the past.”

The immediate future is Columbia, four games with the Lions.

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