Jesse Wilkening planned to do some studying on the Nebraska baseball team’s charter flight to Ohio State on Thursday. Some of his teammates might have done some, too.
This is final-exam time at the university, and “academics are number one,” said Wilkening, who took an economics final before the team left. And he has another on Monday.
When the Huskers open a three-game series with Ohio State on Friday, however, finals will be set aside.
“This is a tough time of the year,” Coach Darin Erstad said. “A lot of the older guys are used to it, some of the younger guys probably not. We talk about that, address it, and I build extra time.”
The team had Wednesday off “for the simple fact, ‘Let’s get our stuff taken care of that we can before we go on the trip,’” said Erstad. And it will have Monday and Tuesday off as well. “Things like that we build into it. But our guys do a pretty good job of . . . when we get on the field, we drop all our problems at the door, and we’re out there for that period of time playing baseball.”
Nebraska and Ohio State are scheduled to get on the field at 5:35 p.m. (CT) Friday, with Jake Hohensee (5-2, 3.17) on the mound for the Huskers and junior right-hander Yianni Pavlopoulos (2-5, 6.39) pitching for the Buckeyes, who have lost seven-of-nine since taking two-of-three at Penn State.
Ohio State is 16-24 overall and 4-8 in the Big Ten, which puts the Buckeyes 11th. Nebraska is 24-15-1 and 7-4-1 in conference play, good for third behind Maryland and Minnesota.
The Huskers’ RPI is 38 at the mid-point in their Big Ten schedule. Considering that, every game has final-exam implications, figuratively speaking. They’re in position for an NCAA regional.
“It’s fun for the fans to get into it,” Erstad said of the RPI. “But it means nothing right now. We have to go out and take care of each pitch, just like we do at the beginning of the season.
“Every pitch is just as important as another one. As the season goes on, sure, there’s going to be more talk about that. I look at it as more of a distraction and things I need to talk to our team about, not let it affect them, because you start looking down the road and thinking big picture instead of what has gotten us to this point, to be in a position to where we have some opportunities ahead of us if we play well. That’s what our focus is on, going about it pitch-to-pitch.”
Nebraska can’t look past the Buckeyes, who are next-to-last in the Big Ten with a .243 batting average and a pitching staff that has a 5.11 earned-run average. By comparison, the Huskers are hitting .270 and their pitchers’ ERA is 3.39, second-best in the conference.
Wilkening went 5-for-12 at Minnesota last weekend, with a home run and four runs-batted-in. He’s among five Nebraska regulars hitting over .300 in Big Ten games, with a .333 average. The others are: Ben Miller (.389), Luis Alvarado (.370), Luke Roskam (.321) and Jake Meyers (.319), who was 6-for-12 with four runs scored and two RBIs at Minnesota as the leadoff hitter.
Meyers has batted leadoff in the last six games, replacing freshman Mojo Hagge in that role. “I like him hitting as many times as he physically can possibly hit in a season,” Erstad said of Meyers. “I talk about maximizing our best players; I want him to get a bunch of at-bats.
“You mix it around. Some guys are swinging it better.”
Hagge has struggled at the plate in conference play, batting only .140.
“You bounce the lineup around to try to find the right match-ups within the lineup,” said Erstad. “It’s one of those things in this day and age with the line-ups, it’s going to be different every time. I don’t like one set line-up. I like to set it up to where you feel like you’re going to have the best matches.”
Hagge has batted leadoff 27 times and Altavilla twice, with Meyers also leading off the first five games of the season. “I really like him at the top,” Erstad said. “I think he brings the type of mentality we want to start off the game. Mojo did a really nice job up there as well, and who knows, he might end up back there someday, too. But right now Jake’s in a good spot.”
So is Nebraska, all things considered. It has a dozen Big Ten games and a third with Creighton remaining in the regular season. They’re all exam-type challenges, you might say.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.