Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Baseball

'No Panic' as Huskers Head to No. 11 Arizona State

February 28, 2020
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Spencer Schwellenbach had just begun an interview with reporters in the small lounge overlooking the practice area inside the Alex Gordon Training Complex on Wednesday when a heavy thud against the window behind him interrupted an answer. It was if something were collapsing. 

A temporary red backdrop hid the window.

A half-dozen or so reporters reacted to the thud with surprise. Schwellenbach did not. Nebraska’s shortstop continued his answer. The topic was the team’s mindset. 

“There’s no panic button at all,” he said.

The reason there might be unease, of course, is the Huskers’ 1-5 record.

“From my perspective, I think that we are just as good or even better than the teams we have lost to,” he said. “So the confidence level is high of all our guys because they know that our coaches think we can do it. Our players know we can do it. So I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Nebraska will try to do it against Arizona State in Phoenix this weekend. The 6-3 Sun Devils, ranked No. 11 by the NCBWA, are led by two-time All-American Spencer Torkelson.

The junior first baseman is batting .320 and has been walked 18 times. Four of his 10 hits have been home runs, two of them doubles, for an .880 slugging percentage.

Where does he rank among the college hitters Nebraska Coach Will Bolt has seen? “Around where one of Tracy Smith’s guys did for Indiana a few years ago, Kyle Schwarber. I think Schwarber is probably the best college hitter I’ve seen,” Bolt said. “Torkelson, I mean, he’s pretty amazing, too.

“You can’t make mistakes to that guy or he’s going to make you pay.”

Tracy Smith is now Arizona State’s coach, has been since 2015.

Anyway, Nebraska took two-of-three from the Sun Devils in Lincoln late last season. Torkelson was 4-for-9 with two home runs and five RBIs in the first two games, but only 1-for-4 in the third.

If Husker pitchers can avoid mistakes to Torkelson—Arizona State is batting .218 as a team, with only one other regular hitting over .300—and the Huskers can hit as they have in the opening games of their two weekend series, they would be in good shape despite the opponent.

Plus, they’ve scored first in all six games. If they continue that, “the odds are in our favor,” said Bolt. “If we continue to get ahead early . . . statistics say you’re going to win 75 percent of time if you score first . . . so continue to do that, continue to play a full nine innings.”

The starting pitchers will remain the same: Gareth Stroh (1-0, 6.10) on Friday night, Colby Gomes (0-0, 7.71) on Saturday night and Cade Povich (0-2, 279) on Sunday afternoon.

Povich has struck out 15 and walked only one in 9.2 innings.

The first two games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (CT) starts, Sunday 1:30 p.m. (CT).

Nebraska is “one play away in every single game from being 6-0,” Schwellenbach said.

If his attitude accurately reflects that of his teammates, there’s been no losing confidence despite losing games. “We took two of three against them (the Sun Devils last season), though they had a really good team,” he said. “And that’s what we plan on doing this weekend, too.”

Junior infielder Jaxon Hallmark, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs before being sidelined by a knee injury early in the season-opener, has missed the last five games. He’s “looking better,” said Bolt, and it’s “looking promising that he’ll get in at least some action this weekend.

“What role that is, I think, remains to be seen. I think he’ll probably be a lot more available this weekend than he was last weekend.”

Though he didn’t play, Hallmark made the trip to San Diego.

“You don’t want to put too much (emphasis) on one guy’s play when it comes to that, but he’s kind of the sparkplug,” Bolt said. “Whether he’s hitting lead-off or not, he’s kind of . . . 

“He’s a very good defender in the middle infield, and so he brings a lot to the table. But there (are) other guys that need to step up when guys get hurt. That’s part of the game.”

Oh yes, that heavy thud during Schwellenbach’s interview? Hallmark fired a baseball off the unbreakable glass behind him. 

It was what a teammate might do.

 
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