You’d probably have to be older than younger to remember, but the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song “Takin’ Care of Business” would be a good soundtrack for the Nebraska baseball team.
The preparation for a road trip to Penn State for a three-game series beginning on Thursday night and continuing to Bloomington, Indiana, for the Big Ten Tournament beginning next Wednesday is no different, except maybe in length, from what the Huskers have done all season.
It’s a “business trip,” junior outfielder-pitcher Luis Alvarado said. “We just go about our business.”
Nebraska has a chance to win the conference regular-season title and be the No. 1 seed in next week’s tournament, with a little bit of help from Purdue. The Boilermakers need to win at least once during a series against Minnesota at Minneapolis.
That’s only if the Huskers take care of business at Penn State, though .
That means sweeping the Nittany Lions, who are 17-35 overall and 3-18 in the Big Ten. It means “playing pitch-by-pitch,” said Alvarado.
Coach Darin Erstad would have been proud of that response. There’s no scoreboard watching, no checking Nebraska’s RPI – which is 39 this week, by the way.
“That’s for you guys to talk about,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
And never mind Penn State’s record. Coach Rob Cooper’s “teams are going to compete, and they beat two top-25 RPI teams in the last week,” Erstad said.
Actually, one top-25 team, West Virginia (19) and Indiana (30) in the last 10 days. But you get the idea. It’s the final series of the season for the Nittany Lions, who won’t play in the Big Ten Tournament, and the final games, collegiate or otherwise, for some of Penn State’s players.
“You’ve got some seniors, their last time; you’ve got some young guys wanting to impress coaches; they’re going to play hard, and they are going to get after it,” said Erstad.
Thursday’s first game is set to start at 5:35 p.m. (CT), and “we’re facing as good of an arm as there is in the Big Ten right out of the gate,” he said of junior right-hander Sal Biasi, who’s 5-5 with a 3.34 earned-run-average with 82 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. He’s walked 35.
Nebraska’s rotation will be the same, starting with Jake Hohensee (6-3, 3.80), who has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts, 11.2 innings.
“It’d be nice to see him down in the zone. We’re going to need him sharp right out of the gate,” Erstad said. “Like I said, their starter . . . is really, really good. His numbers are silly, and we’re going to have to scratch and claw for everything that we’re going to get.
“And Jake’s going to have to match him.”
For Hohensee, who has struck out 50 and walked 26 in 68.2 innings, “it’s just getting down in the zone and command of his fastball,” said Erstad. “He’s going to compete. We know that. So it’s just a matter of being sharp and getting up to speed for that first pitch. We’re confident he’ll do that.”
Erstad was asked if Hohensee, who has come off Tommy John surgery this season, might be showing signs of fatigue because of the surgery.
“If you saw his velo (velocity) start dropping, then you might say, ‘Ah, he might be a little bit off.’ But his velo’s stayed the same and been strong, so in that regard, I think he’s fine,” Erstad said.
The Huskers should be fine if they remain focused.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it matters how you go about your business,” said Erstad.
There’s that word again, “business.” It’s what the Huskers have to take care of.
“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, just play hard every single pitch,” Alvarado said.
- Jake Schleppenbach and Scott Schreiber are both hitting over .400 in the last 10 games, Schleppenbach at .462 with five doubles, Schreiber at .442 with six doubles, a home run and 11 runs-batted-in. Ben Miller is hitting .308 with 12 RBIs.
- Jake Meyers is slated to start Saturday’s third game. He pitched 2.2 innings, allowing seven hits and four earned runs against Michigan State on Sunday, after suffering a cut on his left hand sliding against Creighton. “I’m a big body language guy and you could tell he was processing a lot of stuff out there,” said Erstad. “I mean, he has a gash on his hand. So it’s one of those things where you know he wants to grind it out. Obviously, he didn’t have his best stuff, but that guy’s going to compete if he has a broken arm sticking out of his skin.”
- Whether Meyers can play the outfield during the Penn State series, “we’ll see how it goes,” Erstad said.
- After the Penn State series, the Huskers will bus to Pittsburgh and attend the Pirates-Phillies game at PNC Park on Sunday. “I always try, if we can, get those guys to see another major league ballpark,” said Erstad. “Personally, PNC is the most scenic, beautiful park that you’re ever going to get a chance to see. So hopefully it’s not raining. It seems to rain a lot in Pittsburgh.”
- Former Husker Tony Watson is the Pirates’ closer. Watson and Curtis Ledbetter, Nebraska’s director of operations, were teammates in 2005, when the Huskers reached the College World Series and won the first game, defeating Arizona State.
- Nebraska will bus from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, stay over and then bus to Bloomington.
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.