Nebraska head coach Will Bolt blows a bubble while standing in the dug out with the team during game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Preseason Recognition Is Nice, But Nebraska Baseball Has Work To Do

January 28, 2022

After a 2021 season in which it finished 34-14, won the Big Ten Conference and played in its first NCAA regional final since 2007, the Nebraska baseball team has gotten preseason love as the 2022 slate creeps closer.

The Huskers have been ranked inside the top-25 in two separate polls as they start to trickle out before the 2022 campaign, which, for head coach Will Bolt’s club, begins Feb. 18 in Huntsville, Texas, with a four-game series against Sam Houston. Nebraska was ranked No. 20 by Baseball America and No. 22 by Perfect Game. There are still two more preseason polls yet to be released from USA Today and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

While being recognized as one of the teams with potential to make noise in college baseball is nice, it doesn’t take away the fact that the program has lost a sizable amount of its scoring and pitching production from last season.

Gone are the four captains—Jaxon Hallmark, Spencer Schwellenbach, Joe Acker and Mojo Hagge—along with catcher Luke Roskam and backups Logan Foster and Gunner Hellstrom. Those seven players combined for 252 hits, 32 home runs and 147 runs batted in. Schwellenbach was the Big Ten Player of the Year while Hallmark and Roskam were both first-team All-Big Ten selections.

The pitching staff loses two of the three starters in Cade Povich and Chance Hroch, who totaled 152 strikeouts in 159 innings of work. In all, the Huskers will need to replace 29 starts, 233 strikeouts and Schwellenbach’s 10 saves.

Who are the players Bolt can rely on? That’s a question he and his staff used fall ball and the annual Red-White Series to figure out.

“It’s so much less to do with the physical aspect of it, as who can show up every day,” Bolt said back in October. “Who can show up and have a competitive spirit every day. That part of it I’m much more concerned about than what a guy’s ERA or batting average is in the fall. When I say I don’t care about that, I mean that 100%. That kind of stuff doesn’t really matter because there are so many guys who are going to work on things and they’re going to be totally different from a physical standpoint come spring.”

Though the program loses quite a bit from last season, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. The Huskers return a total of 204 hits, 27 home runs and 149 RBIs. Max Anderson, a Millard West product who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is returning for his sophomore year and will likely man the hot corner at third base. The infielder had 61 hits, seven home runs and 32 RBIs while batting .332 last year.

Cam Chick, Brice Matthews and Griffin Everitt all return, too. That group, along with Anderson, could provide solid parts to the Husker infield with Matthews at second and Everitt behind the plate at catcher. Jack Steil has experience at first base and collected 13 hits, three homers and 11 RBIs last year. Chick had 40 hits, eight homers and 39 RBIs and played in both the infield, outfield and as a designated hitter. Matthews had 36 hits, five homers and 34 RBIs. Everitt had 35 hits, three home runs and 21 RBIs while hitting .287.

Bolt will need to find replacements for all three outfield positions. Hallmark, Acker and Hagge held down those spots last season.

As for returning pitching, Shay Shanaman, a Grand Island, Neb., native, was the third weekend starter in the rotation last season and will likely be relied on as a starter this year. He owned a good record of 5-2 and struck out 72 batters against 25 walks, but also had a 5.08 earned-run average.

Jake Bunz, Koty Frank and Braxton Bragg all logged over 15 innings of action on the mound last season and will compete for spots in the rotation. Both Colby Gomes and Kyle Perry are back after missing time because of injury. Gomes didn’t play last year while Perry was able to return to the field last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2020. Nebraska’s latest Gatorade Player of the Year, Drew Christo, could factor into the pitching plans as well—he had solid showings in the Red-White Series.

Speaking of the Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year, if all goes to plan Bolt could have three former winners of the honor on his roster next season after Cole Evans announced he was committed to the Huskers’ 2022 class. Last spring, Evans, a Grand Island High School grad and former Creighton Bluejay, was an All-American at Parkland College, a junior college Division II program in Champaign, Ill. Anderson earned the accolade the year before Christo.

There are also two transfer pitchers that will be vying for time on the mound in Mason Ornelas and Dawson McCarville. Ornelas pitched 37 innings for Texas A&M last season and struck out 42 batters against 12 walks. McCarville threw 65 1/3 innings for Grand Canyon University last season, recording 48 strikeouts with 25 walks.

Nebraska’s 2021 recruiting class was ranked No. 21 in the country by Baseball America, which is the second-highest recruiting class ranking in program history. The Huskers’ latest class includes 18 newcomers—15 freshmen, two transfers and a junior college transfer. Chase Mason, one of the more highly-touted high school recruits in the class, entered the transfer portal last November and committed to play football at South Dakota State shortly after.

While the 2021 class is in Lincoln and part of the team, the Huskers’ next batch of recruits is coming together. Nebraska just snagged its 14th member of the 2022 class on Wednesday: pitcher Brett Sears.

Sears has spent the past two seasons at Western Illinois and will play at Iowa Western this spring, making him a junior-college addition. Sears, who’s from Harlan, Iowa, had a 25-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2021 and owned an ERA of 5.91 after throwing 42 2/3 innings of work.

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