Nebraska catcher Griffin Everitt looks to third base for instructions while at bat
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s Lineup Has Potential for More Extra-Base Hits, Less Small-Ball

February 17, 2022

As he stood at a podium inside Memorial Stadium last week answering questions about Nebraska’s upcoming baseball season, Kyle Perry couldn’t help but do so with a big smile on his face.

The left-handed pitcher from Millard South High School had good reasons to be grinning ear-to-ear. For one, he’ll enter the 2022 season healthy after missing most of 2021 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery from the summer of 2020. Two, he was named one of the team’s four captains, joining fellow pitcher Shay Schanaman, catcher Griffin Everitt and utility man Cam Chick.

“It’s an honor and a very humbling experience to be looked at by my teammates and coaches as a leader, and to be a Nebraska kid and to be named a captain, it means a whole lot in itself,” Perry said. “It’s something I’m going to look on for the rest of my life with a lot of pride, this honor.”

On Tuesday, head coach Will Bolt announced that Perry, who’s entering his fourth year in the program, is going to be the opening-day starter for the Huskers at Sam Houston on Friday night. The rest of the opening-series rotation was solidified as well, with right-hander Schanaman starting the first game of the double-header on Saturday while righty transfer Dawson McCarville will get the ball in the second. Braxton Bragg, another righty, will start in the series finale on Sunday.

Here’s what the schedule looks like for the four-game series with the Bearkats in Huntsville, Texas:
Friday (televised on ESPN+): Game 1 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Game 2 at 2 p.m.
Saturday: Game 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: Game 4 at 1 p.m.

As the starting catcher, Everitt, who’s entering his second season at Nebraska after transferring from Kansas City (Kan.) Community College, is a good person to ask when it comes to Nebraska’s pitching staff. The Lincoln Southwest High School product said he has fun catching Perry. There’s a certain energy when he’s on the bump.

“He’s going to pound the zone, he’s going to be fearless up there,” Everitt said. “When you know behind the plate that your pitcher is going to come at you and he’s going to trust you, it makes my job a lot easier.”

While the pitching rotation is set, it remains to be seen what Nebraska’s offense will look like. Last season the Huskers ranked first in the Big Ten in runs scored (335), hits (456), RBIs (296) and team batting average (.279). But they must replace four key players in Spencer Schwellenbach, Jaxon Hallmark, Luke Roskam and Joe Acker. In all, Nebraska lost a combined 252 hits, 32 home runs and 147 RBIs from that 2021 squad.

But the cupboard isn’t bare. There’s a young core that the Huskers will lean on. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Max Anderson, returns and will be batting in the first inning this season instead of the five-hole he manned for most of 2021. Anderson hit .332 with 61 hits, seven home runs and 32 RBIs in his first year of college baseball. Brice Matthews will look to be a key piece offensively as well in his sophomore campaign. The Texas native batted .273 with 36 hits, five homers and 34 RBIs.

Bolt won’t know what he truly has until the lights are on and the games are played, but he has an idea of what the offense could look like.

“At first glance, I don’t know that this team is going to be maybe as small-ball oriented as we’ve seen maybe the first couple years we’ve been here,” Bolt said. “Not to say it’s not going to be a weapon for us, not to say that it’s not a tool in our tool belt so to speak, but I think there may be more guys in the lineup that can get you an extra-base hit. And there’s some athleticism there, too.”

Last year Nebraska led the Big Ten in sacrifice bunts with 34. The Huskers stole the second-most bases with 65, which was just behind Maryland’s league-leading 66. The loss of Hallmark stings in the base-stealing department, however. He led the team with 16 while another departed player, Schwellenbach, had the next most with nine. Others could step up in that area, like Chick, who had eight, and Matthews, who added seven.

Nebraska had nine players hit three or more home runs last season. Of that group, five return, including Chick (eight), Anderson (seven), Matthews (five), Everitt (three) and Jack Steil (three). While the Huskers’ 59 homers ranked third in the conference behind Maryland (72) and Northwestern (66), they tied for fifth in doubles (75) and tied for third in triples (nine).

Bolt likes the team’s potential for some pop at the plate.

“I just think it’s a lineup that’s got a shot with some guys who have been pretty successful at this level and some guys who are young that have a lot of talent,” Bolt said. “We’ll see how it all comes together, but there’s strength up and down the lineup. That may lead to swinging away a little bit more at times than maybe we’ve seen.”

Pitches to watch this season

When asked if there was a certain pitch from his teammates that Everitt has noticed this offseason, he responded with Schanaman’s slider-cutter first. Schanaman had a 72-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year, but his ERA was 5.08.

“It’s always electric when it comes out of his hand, he gets a lot of swings and misses out of it,” Everitt said.

Reliever Koty Frank introduced a slider-change-up to Everitt, who said he had never caught that specific pitch before and actually had never heard of it until getting to Nebraska. Closer candidate Colby Gomes, finally healthy after missing all of 2021 with an injury, impressed Everitt with his splitter, which is a pitch that Everitt admittedly needs more work with.

“That’s not a pitch that you see too often thrown by many guys,” Everitt said, “so that’s a pitch that I’m kind of learning still, have to learn the shape of it and get comfortable with catching him a little more too.”

About Sam Houston

The Sam Houston Bearkats went 30-25 overall last year with a 20-15 mark in Southland Conference play. Sam Houston has an athletic department in the middle of transition. On July 1, 2021, the Bearkats became members of the Western Athletic Conference and will play the Huskers as members of the WAC. But on July 1, 2023, they will be members of Conference USA.

Sam Houston will need to replace its top three bats from last season in Colton Cowser (.374 average, 76 hits, 16 home runs, 52 RBIs), Jack Rogers (.367, 76 hits, 16 home runs, 55 RBIs) and Gavin Johnson (.321, 43 hits, one home run, 29 RBIs). Its top pitcher from last year was a true freshman in Coltin Atkinson, who had a 6-1 record and 52 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. Atkinson returns for his sophomore year and was selected to the 2022 preseason All-WAC team.

Sam Houston was picked to finish second in the WAC’s Southwest Division, receiving only one first-place vote.

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