This weekend, Nebraska baseball will see the biggest tests of its young season.
The Huskers are heading up to the six-team Cambria College Classic, where two of their three games will be against top-10 teams in No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Ole Miss. They’ll face off against Hawaii in the middle of those matchups.
Nebraska won’t play the other two attendees, which are fellow Big Ten members Maryland and Minnesota. The schedule avoids any conference matchups. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both in the SEC and won’t face each other.
The Rebels and Commodores highlight the event. Ole Miss won the 2022 national championship, and Vanderbilt has won two titles in the past decade.
While multiple Huskers acknowledged the upcoming challenge at Wednesday’s media availability, they avoided getting too wrapped up in the opponents being big name teams.
“Right now, just focused on Vanderbilt,” Max Anderson said. “I mean, all of us played summer ball and we’ve all played a bunch of these guys, so we’re just playing baseball again, going out there, having fun.”
Head coach Will Bolt didn’t put too much importance on the event against some top teams either. He said his focus is mostly on seeing his team continue to improve, regardless of results.
“I don’t really put too much stock into it, to be honest with you,” Bolt said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our players to play in an environment where it should be kind of a regional type feel. I just want us to play well. I just want us to continue to get better, and that sounds a little boring, but that’s truthfully where we need to be.”
Nebraska enters the event coming off a series in which it did just that. The Huskers swept South Alabama, bouncing back from a poor opening weekend. The offensive production remained fairly similar, but major improvements were made on the mound. The Jaguars scored four runs in the first game and three runs in both of the next two. Nebraska’s relievers didn’t give up a single earned run in the series, highlighted by Michael Garza’s six-inning outing to finish the sweep.
The fifth-year pitcher allowed one hit and one walk in Sunday’s 9-3 win. This was a change from his struggles in his first two appearances against San Diego. Garza said that he had more of a “presence” on the mound against South Alabama.
Of course, much of the bullpen struggled against the Toreros. Anderson and Garza both said they knew that wasn’t representative of what the team could do on the mound.
“San Diego was definitely kind of a shell shock for us,” Garza said. “None of us expected that. And then I think we showed a lot about ourselves, bouncing back this past weekend so hopefully we keep that going forward.”
Nebraska scored 29 runs in the series, 24 of those coming in the last two games. The Huskers have put up nine or more runs in four of their seven games so far this year. They’ve recorded 12 home runs so far, along with 16 doubles and a triple. Early on, the team’s slugging percentage of .512% ranks second in the Big Ten behind Maryland.
Those types of numbers were in line with Bolt’s expectations for the roster.
“I thought we were going to hit for power last year honestly, with the group that we had,” he said. “But yeah, I think we just have some physical guys in the lineup that have good approach.”
Nebraska’s positive momentum will be tested in Minnesota. The Huskers open the weekend on Friday against Vanderbilt, then play Hawaii on Saturday and Ole Miss on Sunday. Hawaii, the odd team out of the three, has started the year 4-3, including a 2-14 loss to San Diego. The Rainbow Warriors went 28-24 last season, finishing third in the Big West.
As Bolt said, any loss at the event doesn’t make the weekend unsuccessful. The team still will want to win, as is the case every time on the field, but the coach said there’s more value to the event than that.
“This weekend to me is just another weekend for us to go and just keep getting better,” Bolt said. “Obviously you want to go 3-0, but you can still keep getting better even if you don’t win every game.”