After a 3-1 win over Penn State on April 13, ensuring a series sweep of the Nittany Lions on the road, Nebraska sat at 10-2 in Big Ten play and atop the conference table.
Over the next three weeks, the Huskers went 4-8, including three Big Ten series defeats, a 5-0 shutout at the hands of Kansas State and a rubber match loss to Creighton. Bats cooled off majorly and pitching struggled to keep the balance. Whispers of head coach Darin Erstad’s security grew into social media tirades.
But then Nebraska picked it up.
“Everybody knows that you get hot at the right time and anything can happen, and I think we’re hot right now,” senior infielder Angelo Altavilla said late Friday night after wrapping up a 2-1 series win over a Michigan team that came to Lincoln sitting first in the Big Ten.
Nebraska is hot. It took two of three against Arizona State last week, a team ranked 32nd in RPI. Then it outscored the Wolverines 12-2 over the first two games of the series. A 10-8 loss in a Game 3 that went well past midnight Friday night keeps Nebraska’s regular season Big Ten title hopes from becoming a reality but that shouldn’t lessen what the Huskers have accomplished throughout the entire 2019 campaign.
“It’s a long season,” Athletic Director Bill Moos told Hail Varsity. “Baseball lends itself to slumps. You look at the big leagues and everything else, you can go into a little bit of a slump, but the real sign of a strong program is pulling out of that slump.”
Moos is pleased with the baseball program’s season. He’s pleased with Erstad’s work navigating this year. There’s a very simple goal for all of Moos’ coaches: compete for Big Ten titles and compete with effort. Nebraska did that. It played its final game of the regular season with a shot at the Big Ten crown. The team feels they have every chance to go into the Big Ten tournament and win.
“For us to come back and have the success we did against Arizona State — a traditional powerhouse — was impressive,” Moos said. “I think that probably brought confidence to our players. Hopefully that’ll carry.”
Nebraska seems assured of an NCAA Tournament bid now. Altavilla said you could play revisionist history a bit if you wanted, and wonder about what could have been if the Huskers had been able to turn one of those 1-2 series losses to Illinois or Iowa or Northwestern into a 2-1 series win, but their coach has them looking ahead rather than back.
The Huskers have been in playoff mode for some time now.
"We've got fighters in here, they ain't going anywhere," Erstad said. "They're competing. We ran into a stretch there where we weren't swinging the bats very well and now guys are competing and doing a nice job. They're not going away, so let's hope they keep that up."
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.