It’s “welcome back” to Northwestern this weekend at Haymarket Park.
The Wildcats haven’t played the last two weekends, seven games, because of COVID issues. Before those games, Northwestern had lost five in a row. So it comes to town at 12-16.
The three-game series is set to begin at 6:35 p.m. Friday, followed by a 2 p.m. game Saturday and finishing with a noon game Sunday. BTN+ will televise all three games.
NET also will televise Saturday’s game.
The Wildcats come to town as the Big Ten’s home run leader. Still. Despite missing the seven games, Northwestern has hit 54 home runs, nearly two per game to lead the nation.
Will Bolt pointed out the obvious when asked about the challenge of scouting Northwestern given its two-weekend hiatus. “What stands out is, they’ve got a lot of power throughout their lineup, a lot of guys that scare you, raise your blood pressure a little bit when they step in the box,” he said.
Shawn Goosenberg leads the Wildcats, with 11 home runs.
The junior infielder also leads Northwestern in batting average (.358), runs-batted-in (26), slugging percentage (.708) and stolen bases (6-for-6) and is tied for the lead in on-base percentage (.417).
Stephen Hrustich has hit 10 home runs, and Michael Trautwein has hit nine. Three other Wildcats have hit five or more. And yet, Northwestern is hitting .270 as a team. Nebraska is batting .272.
That the Wildcats haven’t played the last two weekends “you can look at it one of two ways,” said Bolt. They might be “rusty” but they’re almost certainly “refreshed, ready to rock.”
As for scouting them, “I guess there’s probably enough of a sample size,” Bolt said.
Beyond that, anyway, Nebraska’s primary concern this weekend is Nebraska. That’s as it’s been all season, which is why the Huskers are 23-11 and only a half-game behind Indiana in the Big Ten.
“It’s honestly all about us,” said Bolt.
“Gritty beats pretty,” remember?
Nebraska ranks ninth nationally in fielding percentage, for example, at .981
Defense “all comes down to focus and mental toughness and selflessness,” Bolt said. “I think there’s a direct correlation between being locked in and focused and selfless as a baseball player, playing good defense, because you’re solely focused on one thing at that point in time.
“You’re not worried about your at-bat. You’re not thinking about how you’re 0-for-3 or 3-for-3. You’re focused on that pitch. And you’re not worried about what the other team’s doing.”
When the Huskers played at Hawks Field two weeks ago, they were swept in a three-game series by Rutgers. The first two losses were a result of lack of effort, and “we were right there to win both of those games,” Bolt said. “Now, Sunday was not, obviously, acceptable in any way, shape or form.”
Last weekend in Piscataway, New Jersey, “we just wanted to make sure we were ready to bounce back mentally from that,” said Bolt. “And we did that.”
The result: Nebraska won three of four.
That the Huskers are a half-game out of first in the conference race can’t be their focus. The message to the team from the captains—Joe Acker, Jaxon Hallmark, Spencer Schwellenbach and Mojo Hagge—is the same. “You can’t get caught up in what’s going on around you,” Bolt said.
“You just can’t, because you make it more than it should be.”
The Huskers have to show up and compete.
“They’ve competed as hard as any team I’ve ever been around,” said Bolt. “We do that, I will be proud of them no matter what.”