LOOK: Huskers Top Lions in Game 1 of Doubleheader
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

‘It’s Not Going To Define Who We Are As A Team’: Nebraska Looking To Turn The Page From Sam Houston

February 23, 2022

Turn the page and move on.

That was the vibe Nebraska baseball head coach Will Bolt got from his team during its one practice this week before returning to Texas to play a three-game series against No. 17 TCU in Arlington beginning on Friday. The Huskers went 1-3 in their season-opening four-game series at Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas, last weekend.

“We’re trying to become the best, most consistent version of ourselves. That’s the point that we’ve got to get to, and we need to figure that out sooner rather than later,” Bolt said Wednesday afternoon inside the Alex Gordon Training Complex.

Nebraska largely struggled against Sam Houston, which is looking like a top-25 program after defeating No. 4 Oklahoma State 6-3 in 10 innings Tuesday night. None of the Huskers’ four starting pitchers lasted more than four innings against the Bearkats. Kyle Perry, a lefty who started Friday’s season opener, threw just 1 1/3 innings and gave up five earned runs while walking five against two strikeouts. Righty Braxton Bragg, Sunday’s starter, gave up six hits and four earned runs in one inning before being replaced.

In all, the Husker pitching staff issued 24 free passes—17 walks plus seven hit batters.

“We saw some things that were surprising, but it’s not going to define who we are as a team,” Bolt said. “That’s kind of the message that we’ve talked about—we’re going to learn from it and make the adjustments necessary to move on, and I anticipate that happening.”

The Huskers’ offense didn’t get on track either. There were a double-digit amount of strikeouts in two of the four games and the team scored more than five runs just once—Saturday’s 12-9 win in the back half of the doubleheader. The poor performance in Huntsville didn’t look anything like what Bolt saw from his team in previous scrimmages.

“We have prided ourself on throwing strikes and playing good defense, and we’ve seen that. We’ve only been outside for a scrimmage probably a couple different times, but we played good defense in the scrimmages and threw strikes in the scrimmages,” Bolt said. “So it was a bit surprising, and those two things often go hand in hand. It’s the tempo of the game—are we throwing strikes, are we eliminating free bases on the mound. Defensively, we need to do a better job of picking the pitchers up and vice versa.”

One of the more disappointing areas of the weekend came on defense, where Bolt and his staff watched as the Huskers committed a combined seven errors. Two of them were charged to third baseman Max Anderson, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Sam Houston did what good teams do, Bolt said, and took advantage of those mistakes.

“I think that part of it is what we hang our hats on and have been really good at, and there haven’t really been any signs going into the year that it was going to be an issue,” Bolt said of the defense, “so that part of it was probably the most surprising, and the starting pitching I guess, not really giving us a whole lot of quality innings. Hitting is hard, and some guys have jitters at times when it comes to things like opening weekend, and that’s part of it. But I’d say defensively, that’s the most frustrating part. The fundamentals, just not taking care of the ball.”

There were bright spots, though, including the play of Colby Gomes and Luke Jessen.

Gomes, who missed all of last season with an injury, hit .429 in 14 at-bats. The 6-foot-5 Millard West High School product had six hits, which included a team-high three doubles. Gomes, a pitcher for most of his career, started at first base against Sam Houston and came in relief to finish off the final two batters in the bottom of the ninth in Saturday’s win.

“Just seeing him healthy on the mound and competing, not over-thinking it, it was a lot of fun to see him out there,” Bolt said of Gomes.

After going through two shoulder surgeries and it being his first real action on the diamond in well over a year, there were understandably some emotions Gomes had to deal with. On top of that, he was first told to pick up a bat and start practicing his swing two days after fall ball was completed.

The practice obviously paid off.

“It felt good. It was a long time coming,” Gomes said. “I was just excited to be out there with the team and not in my living room wearing the same jersey that they were wearing. It was definitely a blessing, it’s been a long road.”

Jessen, a freshman from Elkhorn South, turned heads with his play, too. He hit .636 in 11 at-bats and had a team-high seven hits. That caught the attention of the head coach.

“I wouldn’t say I expected him to hit .700 or whatever it was, but certainly a guy who we knew had a good swing, didn’t really over-complicate things, just kind of takes what the pitcher gives him,” Bolt said of Jessen. “It was cool to see that, as a freshman, to come in and step right up and do that. He came off the bench and got a couple hits in a game. It was an impressive weekend for him.”

Up next for Nebraska is the series with TCU at state-of-the-art Globe Life Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. First pitch for game one of the series is slated for 6 p.m. with Perry on the bump.

Bunz sees his season end with injury

Right-handed relief pitcher Jake Bunz is out for the year with an arm injury, Bolt confirmed.

“It’s not good news on him,” Bolt said. “Unfortunately, it looks like he has something that will keep him out. It’s going to be a long-term injury.”

Bunz had already gone through one Tommy John surgery earlier in his career, though Bolt did not say what the exact injury was. The 6-5 Elkhorn product had a team-high 20 appearances on the mound last season and figured to be a key arm in the bullpen this year. He threw just six pitches in Nebraska’s win before leaving the mound.

“It’s tough, it’s a difficult thing,” Bolt said. “I told him I loved him, gave him a hug and said, ‘Hey man, we’ll get through it.'”

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