Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Baseball Prepared for Important Series at Home Against Penn State

May 12, 2023

This weekend marks Nebraska baseball’s final home series of the regular season.

The Huskers have six games left, all in-conference, and the first three will be played against Penn State. While the team is unlikely to play at Haymarket Park again this season, they’re still working toward ensuring more games in front of an in-state crowd. 

The Big Ten Tournament will be played in Omaha starting May 23, and Nebraska has not solidified its place in the eight-team field. It’s in a four-way tie for fifth in the standings currently, just a half-game ahead of Illinois. Minnesota and Penn State are the two other teams on the outside looking in that have not been eliminated. The latter is three-and-a-half games back of Nebraska, and will be fighting to stay in the race in Lincoln this weekend.

Even if Illinois sweeps its one remaining opponent, the Huskers would just need to win the next two series to clinch a spot. But beyond just making the tournament, seeding possibilities are wide open as well. They’re three games back of first-place Maryland, and within two games of second place. The Terrapins haven’t lost a conference series in two years and own the tiebreaker over Nebraska, so taking the top spot may be difficult, but a higher seed would surely be preferred.

Coming into last weekend, Penn State had won four of its last five Big Ten games with a sweep of Ohio State and doubleheader split against Iowa. However, it then was swept by Rutgers. The Nittany Lions enter this weekend on a four-game losing streak after being blown out by Omaha in a midweek matchup.

Penn State is statistically average or below average in the Big Ten in just about every team stat. It ranks seventh in the Big Ten in batting average and ninth in earned run average. The team has two starting pitchers in the Big Ten’s top 10 in ERA, and a third at No. 21, right below Jace Kaminska. Johnny Piacento and Thomas Bramley are hitting .354 and .344 in conference play, respectively. There’s a respectable level of talent, but the team has still only been able to win one Big Ten series.

Meanwhile, Nebraska is 3-6 in its last nine Big Ten games after a 7-2 start to the conference schedule. The last two weekends have still brought some positive results, with the team winning twice against Minnesota and taking a game from first-place Maryland.

A commonality between the last three series has been that the Huskers have lost the opening game. To change that, a strong performance from starting pitcher Emmett Olson will be necessary. Earlier this week, his status for the series was somewhat in doubt. He exited against Maryland after a hit went off his ankle, and initially feared the injury was worse than the bone bruise it ended up being.

“I definitely thought it was probably my last start of the year,” Olson said Thursday. “I was kind of freaking out.”

Olson told media on Thursday that he’s “100% guaranteed” to pitch Friday. Head coach Will Bolt said he doesn’t need the junior to be perfect, but would ideally like to see him stay on the mound for six or seven innings and be able to throw about 100 pitches.

“It will be important for him to not feel like he’s got to be perfect, but be economical with his pitches and make pitches when he needs to,” Bolt said.

Of course, the last home series of the season also means Senior Day, which will take place Sunday. Nebraska will honor 10 seniors — Casey Burnham, Shay Schanaman, Kyle Perry, Luke Sartori, Jake Bunz, Griffin Everitt, Charlie Fischer, Michael Garza, Efry Cervantes and Mason Ornelas.

Many of those players have been key contributors for the team this season. They’ll take the time to celebrate, but the focus remains on this crucial stretch of the season.

“You can pretend it’s not a big day for a lot of guys, but it is,” Bolt said of Senior Day. “You just got to let those emotions come out sometimes and then you just realize it’s time to move on and play baseball.”

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Tags: Baseball