Following the cancelation of what was supposed to be Nebraska’s home-opening series against Long Beach State due to inclement weather, the Huskers scrambled to find an opponent for this weekend before hosting a midweek two-game series with New Mexico State on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Nebraska called, and Nebraska-Omaha answered. The Huskers (4-8) will play a home-and-home series with the Mavericks beginning on Sunday, with Nebraska traveling to Omaha for Sunday’s 3 p.m. game. Omaha will travel to Lincoln on Monday for what will be the Huskers’ new home opener, which is slated to begin at 1 p.m.
The schedule shakeup now means Nebraska will play four games in four days and seven in the next eight after counting the three-game home series against Texas A&M Corpus Christi starting next Friday, March 18.
Huskers’ head coach Will Bolt met with the media on Friday and was unsure whether he thought the jam-packed schedule will help his team or not. After going 3-1 in a couple doubleheaders last week in Texas, Nebraska fell on the road at Kansas State, 6-4, on Wednesday in its first midweek game since March of 2020.
“We won’t have a lot of practice days, and certainly there’s some good that comes from that, maybe where you just get in a groove and just start playing,” Bolt said. “You certainly don’t get a chance to work on things if you need to, but I’m excited. This is what you sign up for, you sign up to play games, and we have a lot of those coming up.”
Koty Frank will get the start on Sunday at Omaha while Shay Schanaman will start on the mound at home Monday. Both are coming off stellar outings last week.
Frank, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound righty, threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the first game against Northwestern State last week, which at the time was the furthest any Husker starter had gone. He struck out a career-high 10 batters while allowing five hits and two walks.
Schanaman is coming off one his best games ever, too. The Grand Island, Nebraska, native threw a complete-game shutout in the second game against Northwestern State, the first of his career and for Nebraska since Jake Meyers did it against Western Carolina in 2017. Schanaman’s final line against the Demons: 9 innings, 8 Ks, 1 BB and 3 hits on 95 pitches.
While it’s been a scheduling frenzy lately, baseball players simply want to play baseball, pitcher Kyle Perry said. After the loss to the Wildcats on a cold day in Manhattan, Kansas, the left-hander feels it’ll be a good thing to quickly return to the diamond.
“Obviously with how we started, it hasn’t been ideal,” Perry said. “So to sit there and not really have a lot of time to think about much, that I think is going to be beneficial for us.”
Omaha will come into Sunday’s game with a 4-9 record. It’s a team that’s had ups and down. The high point so far would be a 9-4 win over No. 21 UCLA in a midweek game in February. But since then, the Mavericks are 2-6 and haven’t played since Tuesday when they picked up a 5-3 win over Creighton.
One player to watch for Omaha is Mike Boeve, a Hasting High School product. Boeve is batting .429 in 49 at-bats and has an on-base percentage of 1.236. He has a team-high 21 hit and nine doubles, which is tied for second-most in the nation.
With Nebraska’s pitching staff owning a combined earned-run average of 4.10, which ranks 82nd in the country, Bolt is hoping the offense comes around to give the pitchers support. The Huskers are averaging just 4.2 runs per game, which is tied for 249th nationally. Omaha is averaging 6.2.
Bolt said Nebraska had a .310 average at the plate in the four games last weekend, but the scoring isn’t where it needs to be. The Huskers faced good pitchers early on and played in ballparks that aren’t friendly to hitters, like the massive Globe Life Field, where Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers play.
“We’re not scoring the way we need to, so that’s why you see us continue to tinker with the lineup, just looking for a spark in the lead-off spot, who’s going to hit in the middle of the order, those type of things,” Bolt said. “We’re still trying to figure that out right now, because we’re just not stringing together multiple good at-bats. I think we’re still underachieving offensively honesty for what we’re capable of.”
Two players who have struggled at the plate this season include Cam Chick and Brice Matthews. Chick, a team captain, is hitting just .161 in 31 at-bats while Matthews, the every-day shortstop, is hitting .216 in 37 at-bats. Matthews started the year 1-of-15 at the plate but has since went on a five-game hitting streak that saw him go 7-of-22 and score six runs.
“It’s a tough game. It’ll eat you alive if you’re worried about your numbers,” Bolt said of what his message to Chick and Matthews is. “Just keep having team at-bats, showing up at practice with the team in mind first, get your cage work in and make adjustments that need to be made. Those guys are high-character guys, and sometimes it’s better to sit and watch, sometimes it’s better to jump right back in the fire. We’re going to need both of those guys without a doubt for us to be able to get to where we want to get to.”
The Huskers loved to run and use their speed on the base paths last season. So far in 2022, that hasn’t been the case. Nebraska has stolen nine bases in 12 attempts, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten Conference. Something that would help the base stealing is putting the leadoff batter on. Bolt said the team is only doing that at about a 30% clip, a percentage that he wants much higher.
“There’s a lot of things we have left to be desired a little bit now from the offensive side,” Bolt said. “I think the pitchers have really stepped up. But offensively, we need to continue to get better.”
After nearly a month of playing on the road to start the season, the Huskers finally get an opportunity to play at home inside the friendly confines of Haymarket Park on Monday. To Bolt, the advantages of playing at home are obvious—sleeping in your own bed, eating familiar meals at the training table and playing in front of Husker fans.
“We’ve had some long road trips already, so I know our guys will be excited to be able to play at home again,” Bolt said. “We were supposed to open up the first weekend of March at home, had to cancel that. Obviously this weekend didn’t work out. Probably would have had 10 inches of snow if we brought Long Beach here, instead we didn’t get it.
“It is what it is, but we’re excited for the stretch we have coming up.”