Chris Webb

Spartans strong, but not sharp enough

Michigan State head coach Jake Boss didn’t schedule South Carolina in a pursuit of moral victories.  A top-25 team, playing in front of more than 6,500 fans, a competitive showing against the Southeastern Conference club would be good enough for a lot of teams. But the Spartans have the same goal as the Gamecocks, to reach the College World Series, and only victories which stand in the win-loss record matter in that pursuit. For as well as Michigan State played against the 2010 and 2011 national champions in Friday night’s 3-2 loss, the loss is just that, a loss, and close isn’t good enough when you’re striving to be the best.

“I thought we had a couple opportunities that we weren’t able to take advantage of and we made a couple mistakes that they did take advantage of and that’s what good teams do, they take advantage of the opportunities that you give them,” Boss said.

Against the eighth-ranked team in the country, Michigan State’s opportunities outnumbered South Carolina’s, and the team capitalized early to score first in Founders Park.

With one out in the top of the third, freshman left fielder Danny Gleaves singled to the left field, advancing to second on a fielder’s choice one batter later. The first runner in scoring position against South Carolina pitcher Clarke Schmidt, Gleaves was batted in by sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina on a liner up the middle, putting the Spartans in front 1-0.

With Schmidt and Michigan State left-handed pitcher Alex Troop locked in a pitcher’s duel, for the first half of the game the lone run stood tall.

Picking up five strikeouts in the first two innings, after Gleaves’ run, Schmidt was back to racking up the punchouts, with two strikeouts in the fourth and another in a three-batter fifth inning.

The K-count wasn’t as gaudy, but Troop was equally dialed in.

The sophomore southpaw sat the Gamecocks down in order in the first two innings and worked around a hit batter in the third and walk on in the fourth. At the game’s midpoint, South Carolina had yet to strike Troop for a hit.

“Alex was lights out, he was one of the best guys in the country tonight,” said Boss, Michigan State’s ninth-year head coach.

But in the blink of an eye, Troop’s no-hitter, shutout and Michigan State’s lead was gone.

A lengthy umpire meeting ended the top of the fifth on a reversal of a safe call that saw Spartan second baseman Dan Durkin reach first on a fielder’s choice, changed to a 3-6-1 double play. With the aid of the umpires to end the Michigan State at-bat, the Gamecocks were spurred by the aid of the Spartans in their trip to the plate.

USC third baseman Alex Destino skied a ball to shallow right field, misplayed by MSU right fielder Dan Chmielewski. The ball dropping beyond Chmielewski’s glove, Destino reached second base on the error. South Carolina second baseman LT Tolbert was unable to successfully sacrifice Destino over, striking out after two failed bunt attempts, giving Michigan State a brief reprieve.

But the quality team they are, South Carolina made the most of the extra opportunity. USC shortstop Madison Stokes stroked the first offering from Troop over the left field wall for a two-run home run, giving the Gamecocks their first hit, run and lead.

The home run would be just one of three hits Troop surrendered in a 99-pitch complete game. A leadoff single in the sixth was erased by next at-bat double play, but the third USC hit led their third run, with the team again taking advantage on an opportunity provided.

With one down in the bottom of the seventh, Bride turned on a 2-1 offering from Troop for a line drive to left center. The ball escaped the outstretched glove of diving center fielder Bandon Hughes, leading to a standup triple. Tolbert again was unable to advance Bride, but striking out on a ball in the dirt, Tolbert forced a throw to first. After MSU catcher Matt Byars threw down to putout Tolbert, Bride broke for home, beating the throw from Zack McGuire to push USC’s lead to 3-1.

MSU responded in their next at-bat, but were unable to fully seize their opportunity.

Durkin led off the eighth with a single to left and moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch with Bechina at the plate. Bechina was hit by a pitch to put the first two runners on base, giving the Spartans two in scoring position a batter later after a successful sacrifice bunt by McGuire. Hughes grounded out to Tolbert at second base, but the ball to the right side was enough to bring in Durkin. Representing the tying run, Bechina was stranded at third base, keeping the game 3-2, the score holding until the end.

Bechina and Hughes each picked up two hits as Michigan State out-hit South Carolina 9-3, but the Spartans left eight runners on base to the Gamecocks’ two.

“We scattered nine hits, and I thought we came in with a good approach, but we struck out 14 times and so when you can’t move the baseball with runners in scoring position, it’s hard to score,” Boss said. “Every time Schmidt needed a big strikeout he got it. Nine hits is fine but when you don’t score off those hits, it doesn’t really matter.”

Schmidt, exiting after the Bechina free base, scattered eight hits in 7.1 innings, but seven were singles, a sixth-inning double by Hughes the lone extra-base hit. Going toe-to-toe with one of the best pitchers in the country, Troop struck out six batters against one walk.

““He made one mistake and the guy got the barrel out on the home run,” Boss said.

“That was a tough loss for Alex, but he was as good as anybody, anywhere in the country tonight and Alex can beat anybody. I’m very proud of the way he pitched tonight, but unfortunately it was kind of a hard-luck loss situation for him.”

Falling to 9-3 on the season, Michigan State looks to receive the same quality start when Ethan Landon takes the ball for Saturday’s game. But also, to better support their pitcher by capitalizing on opportunities when at the plate and not giving extra opportunities to the Gamecocks in the field. Doing so will show that they’re not just close to South Carolina’s level, they are there and with a tally to the win column.

“We’ll need to be better tomorrow, we need to be cleaner tomorrow and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we get.”

At home at shortstop, McCoy starts strong at home

There’s no place like home…, home is where the heart isTake your choice of cliche, there is a distinct feeling of comfort, peace and being at ease when at home. If cliches aren’t one’s cup of tea, Iowa’s Mason McCoy can provide a first-hand testimony on what it means to be at home.

Back at his natural position, shortstop, McCoy is at home for the Hawkeyes. Playing relaxed and free, the senior is also off to a sizzling start at home plate.

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, McCoy has a .407 average, through seven games, picking up 11 hits in 27 at-bats. Iowa’s two-hole hitter is slugging .704 on the strength of three doubles a triple and a home run. Leading the Hawkeyes into the Dairy Queen Classic, McCoy’s prowess at the plate is a benefit of being comfortable all around, starting with the change in defensive position.

“I know Mason, and that’s what he is, that’s what he wants to play, that’s his favorite spot,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said on McCoy moving from third base to shortstop. “Once we came back in the fall I could just tell how much more happy he was to be over there.”

“I agree with Coach Heller,” McCoy said. “The move to shortstop did comfort me in a lot of ways, not only in the field but at the plate as well.”

With Iowa fielding All-Big Ten shortstop Nick Roscetti, McCoy, a transfer from Illinois Central Community College, manned the hot corner in his first year with the Hawkeyes.

“Unselfishly, last year, he embraced third base and did the best he could,” Heller said. “We had talked and, obviously, he still wanted to play shortstop, but with as well as Roscetti was playing it just wasn’t going to happen. Then this year he stepped in and so far, we’re still pretty early in the season, but he’s playing an outstanding shortstop for us.”

By Heller’s watch, McCoy played an elite-level third base last year for the Hawkeyes. What didn’t occur, at least for the first half of the season, was McCoy performing at the plate at a level he and Heller knew he was capable of.

McCoy arrived in Iowa City with much fanfare. An All-American at ICCC, McCoy received interest from professional teams in the summer of 2015. Playing in the Northwoods League, McCoy set a league record with 112 hits, 80 runs and 168 total bases. Not drafted out of ICC, and spending two years at a JUCO, McCoy was free to sign with any professional club. But McCoy rebuffered all overtures and enrolled at Iowa. With the Hawkeyes coming off of a 40-win, NCAA Tournament season, the expectation was for McCoy to step in and lead Iowa back to a regional.

“I think last year he really pressed, he really wanted to get off to a good start with the accolades he came in with,” Heller said. “Kind of put a little pressure on himself.”

McCoy, who never hit below .300 in his time at ICCC or in the Northwoods, was batting below .250 as Iowa entered May. But as the Hawkeyes rallied in the final month of the season, going from outside of the Big Ten Tournament field to finishing tournament runners-up as the eighth-seed, McCoy caught fire. Finishing the year with a 13-game hitting streak, McCoy picked up 28 hits in last 60 at-bats, a stout .466 average.

“Late in the year he started to figure some things out, closing some stuff up before the conference tournament,” Heller said. “He was going pretty well that last month.”

Though he didn’t have a bad year, batting .291 with 12 doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs, the McCoy Iowa saw in the final month is who the team has seen from the start of the 2017 season. Taking a vested interest in his swing mechanics, the mental side of the game and understanding what opponents are trying to do, McCoy has dedicated himself to being a complete player.

“This fall I really worked with Pete (Lauritson), who was our hitting coached, before getting a job with the Indians,” McCoy, the MVP of the 2016 Northwoods League All-Star game said. “I really worked a lot with him on my swing mechanics. Just seeing the ball and hitting it, just trying to simplify everything.

“Then, Coach Moore, Sean Moore, stepped in in his place and really picked up where he left off. I think that’s been a big thing with me offensively this year, just having those sit-down talks with Pete, talking philosophy with Sean a lot, that kind of cleared my head and helped me offensively.”

Heller echoes McCoy’s change in mechanics and ability to have a better mental understanding.

“He’s really tightened his swing up, he’s cleaned it up. He shortened it up but increased his powered. Closed up holes to both sides of the plate, now he’s driving balls to the opposite field gap off the wall. He’s driving balls pull-side to the gap off the wall. Guys are having a hard time figuring out where to pitch him right now.

“His mental game is much much better, He has a really good plan on how to deal with failure. That’s what I see, he’s able to deal with that in a much more positive way and just move on to the next pitch.”

The maturity McCoy steps to the plate with extends into the locker room. One of four co-captains, McCoy’s comfort allows him to step up and speak when necessary.

“I’ve always kind of been, and I told Coach Heller this, I don’t lead by voice,” McCoy said. “I’ll say what I have to say, when it needs said, but I’m more of a lead by example. I think that’s what those guys were last year, especially Nick Rossetti, he was a big lead by example guy.

“I’m not going to be the guy that’s going to get in your ear all year, but there’s a couple of young guys this year, freshmen, where I’ll have to pull them aside to talk to them, and when I do they know this is important. That’s just the kind of relationship I wanted to be on this year with the younger guys, just to get them to learn.”

Heller oversees the infield during practices and with infielder Corbin Woods, the other non-pitching co-captain, nursing an off-season injury, McCoy is Heller conduit whenever a matter needs resolved or addressed on the field.

“He’s stepped up and done a really nice job with that communication and working with our other captains to make sure that all of the things are getting done that we expect from our guys both on and off the field. He’s done a super job with that since the beginning of the fall.”

A captain, off to a great start with gaudy numbers, it would be easy for McCoy to get ahead of himself, look for more accolades and even take a look at the draft. But from his upbringing to the guys he leads in the locker room, McCoy surrounds himself with people that won’t let that happen.

“I was raised that way by my parents, just to keep my feet on the mound, not to get too high and mighty with myself.

“But also my teammates. I walk into the locker room and they’re all ‘player of the week’, giving me a hard time about it.”

That sounds like a player right at home.

Weekend preview March 3-5

The calendar has turned over to March which means the college baseball season is starting to pick up steam. The Big Ten didn’t have the best showing in February, seeing its lone ranked team, Maryland, stumble to a 1-5 start,  as the conference went 2-16 against ranked teams. But it’s a new month and there’s a new leaf to turn over as teams hit the mid-way point of pre-Big Ten play.

From California to the Carolinas, up to Minnesota and down the Texas, there’s noteworthy tournaments throughout the country with a Big Ten team in the fold, spotlighted in this week’s weekend preview.

Aggressive, clean play leads to Michigan’s hot start

Michigan’s 2017 season is off to a strong start, sporting a 7-2 record heading into the third weekend of play. Set to take part in a strong Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic field, joined by San Diego (4-2) and co-hosts UCLA (4-3) and USC (6-2), the Wolverines will take to the diamond in Los Angeles riding a five-game winning streak.

So far it’s been a complete effort for Michigan. Behind seniors Michael Brdar and Harrison Wenson both batting .371, the team boasts a .282 average, third-best in the Big Ten. Wolverine pitching also ranks third in the conference with a  4.22 ERA. Committing only four errors, the team’s .988 fielding percentage trails only Minnesota, with their 26 stolen bases in 27 attempts 10 clear of the conference’s second-best effort.

From the outside, it appears everything has come together for Michigan to be playing good baseball, ready to take on a weekend with quality competition. But, according to MLB’s once long-time home run king, what Michigan has done means little.

“We’re very fortunate with some of the speakers we’ve had in the fall, but Hank Aaron came and spoke to our team,” said Michigan head coach Erik Bakich. “One of the quotes he told our team is that ‘what you did yesterday is only good for wrapping a dead fish.’ That’s something that stuck with our guys. They know the games we’ve already played out here have no impact on the next game.”

What has made an impact on the game is Michigan’s ability to throw strikes, hit with power, run the bases and play clean defense, Bakich speaking to the completeness Michigan has shown thus far.

“We’ve gotten good performances, good efforts from our starting pitchers since we’ve been in California…The lineup is balanced, there’s speed at the top and bottom, there’s power in the middle, really the area that I would say as a coaching staff we’re most impressed with is the defense.”

For Bakich, the defensive showing is due to the team fielding a veteran lineup. Michigan returned its entire starting infield and two of three outfielders. The lone newcomers being junior DH Nick Poirier, a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College and outfielder Miles Lewis, a redshirt-sophomore transfer who was the Western Atheltic Conference Freshman of the Year at North Dakota last year.

“To come out and play on natural grass and dirt surfaces, you don’t always know how it’s going to go in the early part of the year in terms of securing the ball. The position players have shown their experience. They’ve done a nice job of not only making routine plays but making the web gem plays as well. That’s been a good sign.”

Michigan’s ability to field the ball, limit the opposition to chance, pairs nicely with an aggressive style of offense, continually putting the opposition in pressure situations. The Wolverines’ 26 stolen bases are tied for the most in the country, the fruits of an everyday-labor in the fall.

“The investment in the running game was made in the fall,” Bakich said. “We worked a lot on it. The running game isn’t something you can put in in the spring, that was something that we trained for every day in the fall. There wasn’t one day where we didn’t work on baserunning.

“I would say very rarely do I give the steal sign. The guys that have earned the green light, they knew who they are. They’ve become savy baserunners where they look for opportunities to run, they know the situations they should run and shouldn’t.”

The stolen base tally catches the eye, but to the fifth-year head coach, it is just a byproduct of how his team is playing.

“I just like the aggression with which our guys are running. It’s aggressive but it’s also smart,” Bakich said. “They’re taking good chances, they’re taking the extra 90, they’re moving up, they’re looking for any opportunity to advance, it’s put some pressure on teams where we’ve had big innings because of it.”

With each of Michigan’s three weekend opponents having winning records through three weekends, big innings may be hard to come by. But the way the Wolverines play will not change throughout the season, regardless of facing a college blueblood or mid-week regional opponent.

“Whatever the other jersey name says on the front of their chest really doesn’t matter. We’re going to have to fight, it doesn’t matter who you play. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day so we’re going to have to play well, compete, fight, execute. It’s a great tournament, we’re looking forward to it but it’s going to come down to our ability to execute.”

DQ Classic returns to Minneapolis

Get ready for free dilly bars as the Dairy Queen Classic is back. After a four-year hiatus, the Dairy Queen Classic, which started in 1987, returned to Minneapolis as the host Gophers welcome Hawaii, Oral Roberts and Big Ten brethren Iowa to U.S. Bank Stadium. Since it’s inception, the Dairy Queen Classic has had 145 Major League players participate in the tournament, and it was one of the first televised regular-season college baseball games on ESPN in 1989.

Minnesota entered the classic 4-2 after suffering a midweek loss to North Dakota State on Tuesday. The Gophers boast the second-best offense in the Big Ten, batting .339, led by Luke Pettersen’s .667 average through 21 at-bats. Four other Gophers are batting .300 or better as Minnesota sports a .463 slugging percentage behind 11 doubles, five triples and two home runs. Minnesota has yet to receive a quality start from a pitching staff that has a collective 5.26 ERA. As starts Lucas Gilbreath and Toby Anderson look to return to their 2016 form, as Minnesota weekend opening and closing tandem, young Minnesota pitchers have shined. Freshmen Nolan Burchill and Brett Schulze have combined to pitch 13.1 innings, allowing four runs.

Not scheduled to meet in the conference season, Iowa will take on their neighbors to the north on Sunday. The Hawkeyes enter the weekend 4-3 on the season, winning three of their last four games after going 1-2 at South Florida to start the season. Senior shortstop Mason McCoy, the Big Ten Player of the Week, leads Iowa with a .407 average, using three doubles, a triple and a home run to carry a 1.204 OPS through two weekends. The Hawkeyes .245 team average is in the middle of the Big Ten, but their 3.84 team ERA ranks second. Junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher is Rick Heller’s ace and is performing at that level. In two starts Gallagher has a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings.

Oral Roberts is the hottest team entering the tournament, sitting 7-1 on the season. Last weekend, Oral Roberts went on the road and swept Alabama, before returning home to take a midweek contest against Kansas, turning back the Jayhawks, 12-1. Oral Roberts is led offensively by junior outfield Noah Cummings. Cummings has a .469 average with two doubles and four home runs. On the mound, Oral Roberts is pitching to the tune of a 3.32 ERA.

Hawaii heads to the Twin Cities with a 3-4 record. The Rainbow Warriors don an impressive 2.69 ERA on the season, but the opposition has pitched to a 1.69 ERA and .202 batting average against. Hawaii and Minnesota will play a Thursday night game, before the tournament kicks off.

All times Central, the rest of the weekend’s schedule follows.

Friday

  • Iowa vs Hawaii – 12:15 p.m.
  • Minnesota vs Oral Roberts – 6:30 p.m.

Saturday

  • Iowa vs Oral Roberts – 12 p.m.
  • Minnesota vs Hawaii – 6:30 p.m.

Sunday

  • Hawaii vs Oral Roberts – 11 a.m.
  • Minnesota vs Iowa – 3 p.m.

Around the conference

Florida Atlantic (4-3-1) welcomes another Big Ten opponent to Boca Raton as Illinois takes on the Owls a weekend after the Indiana Hoosiers split a three-game set. Illinois enters the weekend 2-5, behind an all-underclassmen weekend rotation. Taking their lumps early in the season, Illini pitchers have a 6.82 ERA spurred by walking 6.97 batters a contest. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Luke Schilling will take the ball on Friday night, to be followed in the rotation by freshmen righties Ty Weber and Ryan Thompson to round out the weekend. At the plate, the Illini are holding their own, batting .277, featuring six batters with a .300 average or better, led by Jack Yalowitz (.393) and Ben Troike (.385). Behind two doubles and a pair of home runs, senior first baseman Pat McInerney is the team’s leading run-producer with 10 RBI.

The Hoosiers are looking for an offensive spark. Falling to 3-4-1 on the season, Indiana dropped a home midweek contest to Cincinnati, 6-1, the third time this season IU has scored one run or less. Sophomore catcher Ryan Fineman is picking up where a solid freshmen season left off, batting a team-leading .333. Junior outfielder Laren Eustace is hitting .320 with four stolen bases, but fellow outfielders Craig Dedelow and Logan Sowers have yet to find their stroke, respectively batting .176 and .129. IU’s .230 team average is curtailing the efforts of the Big Ten’s top pitching staff, Indiana pitchers holding a 3.21 ERA. Indiana travels to Samford for three games, the Bulldogs coming off of a 7-6 win over Auburn on Wednesday to run their record to 4-3. Kevin Williams is the big bat in the Samford lineup, already with four home runs under his belt next to a .409 average.

Michigan State heads to Greenville, S.C, to play in the First Pitch Invitation. With one of the nation’s most potent offenses, the Spartans are batting .368, best in the Big Ten, ranking third in the nation. MSU is led by four players batting .400 or better through seven games, senior second baseman Dan Durkin (.452), sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina (.429), junior DH Zack McGuire (.406) and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves (.400). The Spartans are slugging a gaudy .588 on the strength of 29 doubles and nine home runs, averaging 7.2 runs a game. Gleaves ranks fourth in the country, scoring 1.86 runs per game. The slugging Spartans will play in a tournament field of four teams, none with a losing record. MSU opens the weekend against Furman (6-2), before taking on Presbyterian (5-5) on Saturday, closing the weekend on Sunday against Tennessee-Martin (5-1).

Nebraska went 1-3 in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, dropping both games against #4 Oregon State while splitting two games against #24. As the Huskers look to get back on track, there is no dropping off in the competition. Nebraska heads to Frisco, Texas to play in the Frisco Classic, alongside #9 Arizona, #20 Arkansas and #30 Oklahoma State. Darin Erstad’s team is looking to get sluggings Ben Miller and Scott Schreiber going, as well as settle down a rotation which had difficulties with command and pitching beyond the fourth inning last week. Nebraska’s weekend rotation will go Derek Burkamper, who made his first start last week and was on a 50-pitch watch after a slight end-of-offseason arm issue, Jake Hohensee, who started Nebraska’s 4-3 win over Utah in his first action since May 2015 following Tommy John surgery, and two-way player Jake Meyers, resumes his Sunday role.

Northwestern and Penn State hopes to match Michigan’s undefeated showing in northern California, with Penn State taking on Pacific for three games with Northwestern travels to Santa Clara for four contests. Penn State’s showdown with Pacific in Stockon, Calif., is the start of a seven-game run in the Golden State for the Nittany Lions, while Northwestern returns home for their home debut on March 7 against Illinois-Chicago before heading out west for a three-game set at Portland. Penn State is looking to build off of a 2-2 showing against Xavier in Cary N.C., Northwestern is looking for their first win of the season, falling in their first six contests. Both teams hope weekend #3 is where the offense turns around, Northwestern enters March with a .167 average with Penn State sporting a .237 clip.

Rutgers was unable to take a road game at a ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foe for the second consecutive weekend, being swept at Virginia, after going 1-2 on opening weekend at Miami. A 9-2 midweek win over Wagner allowed Joe Litterio’s team to get back on track, in advance of returning to Virginia for three games at Old Dominion. Rutgers center fielder Jawuan Harris is stuffing the stat sheet, batting .346 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs and three steals. Milo Freeman and Mike Carter are contributing robust .375 and .370 respective averages. But as a team RU is batting .251 with a 7.14 ERA, hoping a step down in competition leads to better numbers and wins.

Required reading

Youth of Illinois baseball team continues to shine -Thomas Polcyn, The Daily Illini

Freshmen impress as Northwestern drops 3 in Mule Mix Classic -Evan Augeri, The Daily Northwestern

Connor Pohl’s Story All-Too-Familiar -Sonny Fulks, Press Pros Magazine

Penn State baseball’s offense sees significant improvement– Matt Martell, The Daily Collegian

Purdue’s Logan Poisall honors his father -Nathan Baird, Lafayette Journal & Courier

10 Innings Extra: Huskers need “screw it” moment

Nebraska exceeded expectations in 2016. The Big Ten’s western-most program was not expected to be among the top three contenders for the Big Ten championship in the preseason, the favorites being Indiana, Maryland and Michigan. But the team finished a half-game behind champion Minnesota and reached the NCAA Tournament. For head coach Darin Erstad and the Huskers, it was a second regional appearance in three years, after claiming their third second-place finish in four seasons.

A program with great tradition, Nebraska seeks consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2007-08. Through two weekends of play, the team has an uphill battle in their quest to be a part of the field of 64. The Huskers sit 2-4 on the season after a rain-shortened opening weekend resulted in a two-game split versus UC Riverside and a 1-3 showing in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Through the half-dozen games, Nebraska is batting .243 and the Huskers have crossed home plate only 20 times, averaging 3.3 runs per game.

A six-game start isn’t doom to a team’s postseason odds. But a year after exceeding expectations, the weight of what’s expected this season has Erstad waiting for his team to just play baseball.

Nebraska’s returned its top three hitters from its 37-22 club, a .281-hitting outfit a year ago. With juniors Jake Meyers and Scott Schreiber and senior Ben Miller, the top of the Husker order was expected to be potent. Meyers led the team with a .326 average, barely eclipsing Schreiber’s .325 mark, while Miller hit to the tune of .317. Schreiber’s 16 home runs were a Big Ten-best with Meyers and Schreiber combining for 28 doubles. Add junior left fielder Luis Alvarado and sophomore catcher Jesse Wilkening, a strong offensive core was expected to lead the Huskers.

But through six games, the abilities shown prior have yet to come through.

Alvarado is batting .308 with three doubles, a nice start to his third season in Lincoln. But he is the lone returning starter performing at an expected level. Schreiber is batting .250 without an extra-base hit, with Meyers and Miller a combined 8-for-48 on the season, a .166 average. Wilkening showed well as a freshman, batting .270 in 111 at-bats, but has only recorded two hits in 11 at-bats.

The sample sizes are small, it’s not unusual for a player to have a slump over the course of a half-dozen games, but when many key contributors are in a rut it’s hard for a team to get going.

What’s causing the funk? Did the returning players suddenly lose skill? Not to Erstad. Following Friday’s 7-5 loss to Utah, where the team left the bases loaded to end three of the first four innings, Erstad mentioned the slow starts may be a result of the players attempting too much to build off of the strong 2016 seasons.

“Right now we have some guys in their own heads a little bit, trying to have the seasons they’re supposed to have,” Erstad said. “I just want to get back to the bottom line of competing.”

For Meyers and Schreiber, as juniors, it is a draft year, while Miller opted to return to Nebraska after being a 32nd-round pick in last June’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But while the offensive output yet to come from the heart of the lineup, the players stepping into the spotlight for the first time have had no such problems. Nebraska closed out the weekend with a 4-3 win over Utah, spurred by a new-look 1-2 punch.

Batting leadoff, freshman outfielder Mojo Hagge went 3-for-5 while sophomore infielder Angelo Altavilla added two hits in five at-bats in the two-hole. On the young season, the two have combined for 16 hits in 33 at-bats. Altavilla and Hagge can’t be expected to continue to hit at their respective .444 and .533 clips for the rest of the season, but their emergence and shown ability against very good pitching gives Nebraska seven capable bats in the lineup, welcomed contributions as Erstad says  “we’re going to need it from all different parts.”

Now it’s time for the veterans to do their part.

“The guys that have a track record haven’t started to hit yet,” Erstad said. “It’s one of those things where we’ll keep throwing them out there and they’ll do their thing. We just need to get back to the basics with a lot of those guys and quit trying to do too much.”

The parts are there for Nebraska to have a season which ends in the NCAA Tournament. Knocking off the defending Pac-12 champions shows what the Huskers are capable of. It’s just a matter of time for it all to come together, newcomers and returners alike to contribute up and down the lineup.

“Our returners are putting so much stinking pressure on themselves right now to have big years, and sometimes that happens. At some point, they’re going to hit the tilt button and it’s going to be ‘screw it, let’s just play baseball.'”

Assistants Anonymous: Early-season grind

It’s time to give assistant coaches some love. From compiling scouting reports, sleeping in terrible hotels on the recruiting trail, tossing batting practice and making sure camps with hundreds of kids run without a hitch, the job of the assistant coach never ends. With the duties the job entails and time and effort put in, the insight an assistant coach can provide is second to none, Assistants Anonymous is an opportunity for assistants to bring us closer to the game.

The first assistant to step to the microphone is a pitching coach, who gives insight on what it’s like during the early season with weekend after weekend of travel, limitations on practice and how he prepares a staff to be ready for the season.

Assistants Anonymous #1

We’re two weeks into the season. For Big Ten programs, that means two weeks on the road. What steps are taken to make sure players able to handle the travel, manage their academics with missed class time and still be able to perform at their best?

Before the first week of school has even finished for our guys, we have our academic advisor compile a missed class time sheet for each player to give to their professors. This helps inform them as early as possible about time missed and puts the responsibility of scheduling tests, quizzes, etc. early if need be so they continue to do their job in the classroom.

In the Big Ten and at our school we are only allowed so many missed days, which in turn means that you may be flying out late on Thursday nights so that you do not miss an extra day of class. This is taxing on all parties, but it is part of the gig here in the Big Ten.

Just how tough is it to leave on Thursday, get back late Sunday, then get ready to do it again three days later, for up to five consecutive weeks?

It is definitely tough at times, especially when are flying to the west coast as so many teams in our league have done over the last couple years. If you are a program that is flying private, it certainly helps you get to your destination quicker….however we are not a program with that luxury, so it means that we are getting home many times between 1-3 a.m., but the players are still going to class the next morning at 8 or 9 a.m.

Do you think the overall wellness of the student-athlete is compromised with the current baseball calendar?

I do think that the calendar being so condensed is certainly tough on the student-athlete, especially in our league with all of the travel. But I do think that the more your schedule takes place with students in school, the better for college baseball. I understand that in the Big Ten that can be tough with the weather.

I don’t know the solution at this point in time, or could I give a detailed answer in one paragraph, however, I think some subtle changes could be made improve things overall.

Has the NCAA’s new rule that a travel day cannot be considered a day off change how you practice?

At this point in time, this rule is not going to really affect us, because that is a change that can be managed over the course of a full year. However, I think that some of the rules in terms of adding extra mandated days off and such are something that makes the job of coaches very difficult.

In my opinion, many players are wanting the ability to be coached and assisted all of the time, and when you limit the ability of coaches to be able to “coach”, then I feel that is a problem. Many rules are put in place because of the 2-3% who abuse them.

When it comes to arm care, do you implement strict guidelines on pitch counts early in the season? What is the process for building up an arm?

The process for building up an arm is not just a start-of-season plan, but rather something that takes place on a 12-month cycle. You have to get these guys into a position where they are ready to roll when the season begins, but one bad move (100 pitches day one, or three straight days of live games early) can set them back over the course of the season.

We progress our guys and pull them early in the year because we want them to be peaking in May and June when everything is on the line. The key to me is to keep daily arm care protocols in place during the season, as well as making sure you monitor how often they hit the mound during each and every week. The more you hit the mound without reason, the higher your chances become for injury during a season.

While you may have a general idea going into the season, at what point in the season do you know what a player is capable of, that he can or cannot succeed in a role on the mound?

The early part of the season for our program is about putting certain guys in a position to purely succeed because we want to build their confidence. Other guys you may put in some circumstances that are difficult and may be more troublesome for simple success.

Although you would like to go into conference knowing exactly what you have in a pitching staff, it is ever-evolving, making it impossible to know how the end of the season will look compared to the beginning. One thing that we really try to continue is to coach the heck out of our arms so that when they are thrust into a new role or position, they are as ready as possible to answer the bell. 

However, when you look at your staff as a whole we would love to have nine guys you fully trust, two wild cards, and one surprise. If you are fortunate to have this collection of arms, then we believe that you have a chance to make a real run in June. 

Feb. 23-27 Weekend Review

From Arizona to Virginia the Big Ten took its lumps in the second weekend of action. The docket was littered with showdowns against ranked teams, but the Big Ten heads to March with only two victories on the season against a ranked club in 18 opportunities.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Michigan swept through northern California while Minnesota held a ring ceremony before the defending Big Ten champions opened its home slate with three wins. Here’s the Feb. 24-27 weekend review.

Marquee Series: Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge

The marquee matchups of the weekend occurred in Surprise, Ariz. as Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, played host to the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Nebraska and Ohio State played two games each against Oregon State and Utah. Feauting three 2016 NCAA Tournament teams and a top-five club in Oregon State, it was a strong quartet of teams, but the Pac-12 had the upper-hand.

The Big Ten suffered a pair of  blowout defeats on day one, outscored 22-1 on a forgettable day for the conference’s participants.

On Friday, Ohio State rebounded to knock off Oregon State and Nebraska showed better fight against Utah, as the Huskers play improved with each game over weekend.

After the weekend-opening 10-1 defeat, Nebraska played Oregon State closer on Saturday but was unable to overcome an early deficit, falling 5-2. On a day where Surprise Stadium played three games, the Rangers and Royals meeting before the Huskers and Beavers squared off, Ohio State and Utah played late into the night. With eight errors and 22 hits between the teams, Utah outlasted Ohio State in a 6-4 victory.

Finishing the game with the Utes near 11 p.m., the Buckeyes had a quick turnaround, playing a 9 a.m. local time on Sunday against Oregon State. A sleepy Sunday affair saw neither team score until a three-run fourth for Oregon State. The 2006 and 2007 national champions upped their advantage to 4-0 in the sixth. Ohio State junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt hit his first career home run in the eighth to put the Buckeyes on the board, a two-out solo shot, but Oregon State responded in the bottom of the inning to conclude the weekend with a 5-1 victory.

Oregon State was matched by Utah with a 3-1 showing as Nebraska ended the weekend with a victory, turning back the Utes 3-4. Pitching for the first time since May 15, 2015, missing the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee pitched 4.1 innings, holding Utah to three runs, one earned, off two hits.

For the first time all weekend Nebraska supported its starting pitcher with a run in the first. Junior DH Scott Schreiber stroked a two-out single up the middle to score Mojo Hagge, who started the game with a single. The teams traded three-run innings in the fourth to cap the scoring. A walk by Schreiber in front of back-to-back walks loaded the bases, before a single, fielder’s choice and a Hagge RBI-single made it 4-0.

In the bottom of the fourth, with three runs in and Utah having runners at second and third, Nebraska turned to Chad Luensmann. The right-handed sophomore picked up a strikeout and fly out to end the threat. Luensmann pitched 3.2 hitless innings before two-way junior Luis Alvarado went to the mound from left field to toss a scoreless ninth, closing the game with his first career save.

Both teams with new faces  throughout the lineup, Ohio State (3-5) and Nebraska (2-4) each showed flashes of being quality teams at times, but too often self-inflicted wounds prevented the clubs from mounting much of a threat or aided the opposition. More will come on the weekend in the desert in this week’s 10 Innings Extra.

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Rough go against the ranked

A grand opportunity was at hand for the Big Ten to make a statement with 11 games on the weekend against ranked teams. But the conference went a combined 1-10 in the games against Houston, LSU, Oregon State and Virginia.

Two big innings saw Illinois lose a 5-0 lead over Houston. Jumping out to a 5-0 lead, Illinois allowed seven runs in the fourth and four in the eighth for an 11-5 defeat.

In Baton Rogue, the third-ranked Tigers had their way against the Terps. LSU grabbed the weekend opener, 6-1, before rolling over Maryland 14-0 on Saturday. In the shutout, LSU left-handed pitcher Jared Poche carried a no-hitter into the ninth before Zach Jancarski picked up a leadoff single in the eighth.

Oregon State’s 3-1 showing in Surprise against Nebraska and Ohio State wasn’t the lone stout effort by a team in orange against the Big Ten. Virginia picked up a three-game sweep over Rutgers, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 37-9.

Wolverines picking up steam in California

The Wolverines opened the season in a tepid way, splitting four games against Seton Hall. But heading to the Golden State for spring break, Michigan has gotten hot. Playing in the Jack Gifford Memorial Tournament, Michigan went 3-0, and added a victory on Monday to leave northern California with a 4-0 showing.

On Friday, Michigan cruised to a 6-1 victory in the tournament opener against Saint Louis University. Junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits while striking out six batters and classmate Nick Poirier added a two-run home run in support. U-M was the benefactor of control issues by Billiken pitchers, drawing eight walks in the game, including three out of the gate in a two-run first inning.

Michigan picked up a 7-6, 10-inning win on Saturday, scoring the winning run on a wild pitching during an intentional walk. Jake Bivens, Miles Lewis, Harrison Wenson and Poirier each picked up two hits, to push Michigan to victory, withstanding a three-run ninth from SLU which sent the game to extras.

Michigan scored a run in the first for a third consecutive game en rotue to a 10-3 win over Santa Clara on Sunday. Drew Lugbauer and Wenson connected on their first home run of the year, and the Wolverines scored seven runs over their final three at-bats to take home the tournament title. But Michigan wasn’t done in NorCal yet.  On Monday, against San Jose State, Wenson picked up his second home run in as many games, joined by shortstop Michael Brdar dialing up a home run in a four-run second inning as Michigan picked up a 6-2 win to improve to 6-2 on the season. Junior right-handed pitcher Alec Rennard picked up the victory, tossing six innings of two-run baseball, striking out nine batters.

Hot corner hot shots

The Big Ten was expected to be deep at third base this season. Through two weeks it appears the conference may be exceptionally deep. After several third basemen enjoyed strong weekends, here’s a rundown of the impressive seasons the conference is seeing from the hot corner handlers.

Indiana Soph. Luke Miller: 5-for-14, .357 AVG; 2 HR

Iowa Jr. Matt Hoeg: 6-for-18, .333; 3 2B, 1 3B

Michigan State Soph. Marty Bechina: 12-for-28, .429; 4 HR

Minnesota Jr. Micah Coffey: 9-for-22, .409; 2 2B, 1 3B

Nebraska Soph. Angelo Altavilla: 8-for-15, .533; 3 2B

Ohio State Soph. Brady Cherry: 8-for-26, .308; 2 HR

Rutgers Jr. Milo Freeman: 8-for-20, .400

Quick hits

Spartans continue offensive onslaught

Michigan State entered the weekend batting .401 with 51 runs scored in four games. The Spartans saw their team average dip below .400, as well as suffered their first loss of the season, but Jake Boss’ crew continued to punish the baseball, taking two of three games at UNC-Greensboro. In a 5-4 win on Friday, six of MSU’s nine hits were for extra-bases. The team erupted for 20 hits in a series clinching 22-16 win on Saturday, highlighted by the Spartans sending 17 batters to the plate in a 13-run fourth inning. UNC-G salvaged the weekend with a 4-1 win on Sunday. After seven games, Michigan State has a .368 average, scoring 11.28 runs per game.

Splits earned against quality clubs

A split in a three-game set is unusual, but that’s what Indiana earned in their weekend matchup against Florida Atlantic. The Hoosiers grabbed the first game of the weekend, knocking off the Owls, 8-4, behind home runs from Austin Cangelosi, Craig Dedelow and Ryan Fineman. Sophomore Jonathan Stiever struck out seven betters in six innings to earn the victory. It would be the lone win on the weekend as Indiana fell 6-2 on Saturday, squandering a three-hit day for Miller and a travel curfew ended Sunday’s rubber match, squared at 6-6 when the action was called after 11 innings. Dedelow and Miller connected on home runs for the second time in the series, as IU pounded out 14 hits in the weekend finale.

After going 0-3 at #1 TCU, Penn State rebounded with a split against a Xavier team. Penn State used a solid showing by junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi to open the weekend with a 7-5 win. Biasi held Xavier to three runs in five innings, striking out five without a walk, keeping XU in check until PSU scored five runs between the third and fifth innings. The Musketeers rebounded to sweep a Saturday doubleheader, taking the first game 10-4 before winning a 7-5 game of their own. In the weekend capper, after both teams were held scoreless through seven innings, Penn State broke through with six runs in the eighth to level the weekend’s series with a 6-1 win. A two-run single by Willie Burger and two-run double by Jordan Bowersox were the big hits in PSU’s last at-bat victory.

Gophers sweep in U.S. Bank Stadium debut

Minnesota opened baseball in U.S. Bank Stadium with a boom and a broom. The Gophers swept visiting Seattle University, concluding the team’s first indoor action since 2013 with victories of 13-4, 6-3 and 11-7.  A weekend attendance of 4,609 saw the Gophers pick up 42 hits to bump their team batting average to .371 on the young season.

Nebraska shows potential in finale win

Nebraska opened the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge with a 10-1 loss to #5 Oregon State. But the Huskers improved over each of the weekend’s final three games, capping the run in Surprise, Ariz. with a 4-3 win over Utah. Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad was pleased with the pitching, defense and his team’s ability to capitalize on an error Ute error in the Huskers victory.

 

Buckeyes learn lessons in Challenge

Following a 5-1 loss to #5 Oregon State to end a 1-3 showing in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals spoke to the lessons the young Buckeyes learned on the diamond in Surprise and what the teams needs to do to rebound after a 3-5 start to the season.

 

Early offense eludes Huskers

Nebraska played it’s best game of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge on Saturday evening, but it wasn’t enough to take down the fifth-ranked team in the country. Nebraska (1-4) suffered a third consecutive loss, falling to the Oregon State (6-1), 5-2, in a game where the Huskers, fell behind early, again, and were unable to muster offense of their own early in the game or early in their plate appearances.

“Just have to keep grinding,” said Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad. “This game is going to throw a lot at you. We’re playing quality teams and every little mistake that you make is going to get exposed. We’re not making huge mistakes, we’re making little ones that can cost us.”

The first Husker mistake put Nebraska in a deficit before they could step to the plate for their second at-bat, for the third time this weekend.

With two outs and a runner on first, Nebraska left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers tossed an offering into the wheelhouse of Oregon State first baseman KJ Harrison, a 1-0 pitch that went out of the ballpark to left field for a quick 2-0 Oregon State lead.

“First inning, two outs, they get a home run. Right there, (if we) get out of that, we have a chance to get rolling,” said Erstad. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Oregon State’s 2-0 lead after the first inning comes two days after the Beavers seized a 4-0 advantage in their first at-bat against the Huskers. It took Oregon State two innings this time to jump to a 4-0 lead, doing so on a bases loaded hit batter and sacrifice fly in the second. While Oregon State jumped on early opportunities, Nebraska was unable to respond in kind.

Nebraska matched Oregon State in having nine at-bats with a runner in scoring position, bettering their one hit with two, but when the runners reached second and third base was the difference in the game.

Junior right fielder Scott Schreiber singled to lead off the second, but two strikeouts kept him at first before Jesse Wilkening singled to left field to put two on. But with two outs, senior second baseman Jake Schleppenbach skied out to center to end the inning. In the third, left fielder Mojo Hagge doubled to right center, but it was with two outs, the inning coming to an end one batter later. Wilkening doubled in the fourth, one batter after sophomore third baseman Angelo Altavilla singled to left, but both of those hits were with two outs. Nebraska again left a runner in scoring position with Schleppenbach grounding out after the sophomore catcher’s two-bagger ending the Husker threat. When Nebraska put Oregon State in a danger zone, it often came with two outs, limiting their chances of capitalizing on the opportunity.

“We didn’t generate anything with zero outs and getting anything started where you have an opportunity to build on something,” Erstad said as Nebraska went 4-for-22 batting with less than two outs. “When you have to always get two-out hits, that makes it even harder. That’s where we put ourselves in a tough position offensively today.”

Struggling to find a way to strike early in their trips to the plate against Oregon State pitchers, the Huskers received a stout relief effort to keep the game in striking distance. After Meyers exited with one out in the fourth, sophomore left-handed pitcher Jake McSteen pitched into the seventh, putting zeros on the board in the process.

“Unfortunately when those guys come in we’re playing from behind,” Erstad said on McSteen’s strong relief effort. “They are doing a nice job with that. We are seeing them way too often in those situations.”

With McSteen holding the Beavers at bay, Nebraska finally broke through in the sixth. And it occurred with offense generated with less than two outs.

Singles from Schreiber and center fielder Luis Alvarado put the first two Huskers on base before a run-scoring knock from Altavilla plated the Nebraska’s first run. The prospect of a big inning dimmed with a Wilkening strikeout and Schleppenbach fly out, but junior shortstop Brison Cronenbold doubled down the left field line to bring home Alvarado and make it a 4-2 game. A four-pitch walk to Meyers loaded the bases, but a line out to left by Hagge ended the rally.

“That’s kind of been the story of our season so far. With two outs (and nobody on), we get two hits, because they’re not trying to walk you. Then we get guys in scoring position and they go to work on you. We haven’t done as good of a job of staying aggressive when we have those runners in scoring position.”

The lone batter to reach base for Nebraska over the final three innings was Schleppenbach, drawing a two-out walk in the eighth, a batter before the inning ended on a fielder’s choice. Oregon State tacked on a run in their half of the eighth to give the game its final 5-2 score.

Knocked around for four runs off four hits in the first two innings, Nebraska pitchers held Oregon State to one run and six hits over the final six at-bats. But the early deficit was too much to overcome for an offense still in search for a consistent approach, from the first inning through the ninth, with no outs or two.

Altavilla, Schreiber and Wilkening each picked up two hits for a club which has totaled 20 over the last two games, but only seven runs to show for it. Meyers received the loss in allowing four runs off six hits in 3.1 innings. Harrison went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored to paced the Beavers. Oregon State starting pitcher Sam Tweedt went five innings, allowing the two Nebraska runs while scattering seven hits, striking out four batters without issuing a walk.

Nebraska closes the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, set to play Utah at 1 p.m. on Sunday, looking the salvage the weekend with a victory.

“I do like where our energy is, I do like where our effort level, or focus, all of those type of things I think are fine,” Erstad said. “We talked early and I said we’re going to be good, it’s just how quickly we can get there. We’re not quite there yet.”

Huskers still in search for winning ways

Not possessing a killer instinct, timidness or a lack of competitiveness, there are options for how one may describe Nebraska’s inability to come through with a big hit in a key situation, capitalize on opportunities provided and play winning baseball. And each one was how head coach Darin Erstad described his team’s offensive performance on Friday night, falling to Utah, 7-5. The loss dropped Nebraska to 1-3 on the season while Utah improved to 4-1.

“It was a game we had a chance to win,” Erstad said. “They got the big hits and we didn’t.”

As Nebraska did in Thursday’s 10-1 loss to Oregon State, the Huskers fell behind right off the of bat, but this time the team fought back.

After Utah loaded the bases on back-to-back singles and a walk off Nebraska started Derek Burkamper, the Utes put the first run on the board with the third single of the inning. A strikeout and fly out to center allowed Burkamper to exit the inning with no further damage. When his teammates stepped to the plate, they reset the game for the senior right-hander.

Leadoff batter Jake Meyers singled up the middle on the first pitch of the game by Ute Jayson Rose. A stolen base and fielder’s choice moved Meyers to third with two outs. Junior DH Scott Schreiber drew a walk before Luis Alvarado singled to left field to plate Meyers and tie the game, 1-1. Nebraska had an opportunity to take the lead and put space between them and the Utes when Jake Schleppenbach walked to load the bases, but a pop up to center off the bat of Alex Raburn ended the inning with the bases loaded.

The three runners left on base would be a sign of things to come for the Cornhuskers.

Both teams sent three batters to the plate in the second inning, in a scoreless inning. In the top of the third, three consecutive singles to start the inning led to a pair of Utah runs. Where the Utes made the most of their baserunners, Nebraska did not.

Three consecutive walks to open the home-half of the third loaded the bases for Nebraska. But two strikeouts around a fly out to left field saw the threat evaporate as quickly as it mounted. For a second time in three innings the Huskers left the bases loaded.

“They’re timid. You can tell they weren’t aggressive,” Erstad said. “Those are the parts of the game that swing either way, we weren’t able to do it.”

In their very next at-bat Nebraska had an opportunity to atone for the failed upon opportunity.

Nate Fisher relieved Burkamper and tossed an eight-pitch 1-2-3 inning to quickly bring the Huskers back to the plate. A one-out double to left center field by third baseman Angelo Altavilla put a runner in scoring position. Meyer collected his second single to center field to put the tying run on base, before moving to second on a full count walk drawn by right field Mojo Hagge. With the bases loaded for the third time Nebraska had it’s three-hole and cleanup batters up. But like Houdini, Rose escaped yet another jam, striking out Ben Miller and Schreiber. Again, Rose sat down Nebraska with three runners left on base to the displeasure of Erstad.

“You have to smell blood in those situations. I thought we had a good opportunity, to get to a good pitcher in those situations, we didn’t take advantage of it.”

After respectively batting .325 and .317 in 2016, Schreiber and Miller have struggled in starting out the 2017 season. Schreiber, a top draft prospect after a 16-home run sophomore season and Miller, returning to school after being selected in the 32nd round of June’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, are a combined six-for-33 on the season. The season is young, only four games deep, but what’s to come in June may be shaping what has happened in February.

“Right now we have some guys in their own heads a little bit, trying to have the seasons they’re supposed to have,” Erstad said. “I just want to get back to the bottom line of competing.”

Though Nebraska left nine runners on through the first four innings, they did find a way to claw back in the fifth.

With two outs, senior shortstop Alex Raburn singled to his Utah counterpart in front of catcher Brady Childs drawing a walk. This time the inning would not end with multiple Huskers on base as Altavilla hit a towering double to the left field corner, tying the game, 3-3.

The score held until the seventh when a two-out single to right field scored a runner at second and a runner at first. The latter runner crossing home ahead of a throw, a tally none too pleasing for Erstad.

“We had first and second two outs, there’s a single and the guy scores from first. I didn’t think there was much sense of urgency when it came to taking care of the baseball there. Those are things we have to clean up.”

But the Husker showed their mettle in rallying in the seventh, again behind the bat of Altavilla.

Leadoff singles by Alvarado and Schleppenbach put two Huskers on with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt by Raburn put them both in scoring position, where two batters they scored on a two-out double to right field by Altavilla. Seeing action in just 14 games in 2016, the sophomore finished the game 4-for-4 with three doubles and four RBI.

“We’re getting good at playing from behind, which is not a good thing to do,” Erstad said. “You want to go out and set the tone, you can continue to play from behind, it’s impossible to play good baseball that way.”

Nebraska was unable to follow Alatavaill’s seventh base of the game with another hit to take a lead for the first time in the game. Meyers popped out to shortstop to end the innings as the Huskers settled for squaring the game for the third different time. But that would be the final time the score was level. Two Utah singles, a walk and sacrifice bunt led to the winning run scoring for the Utes in the eighth, before they tacked on an insurance run in the ninth for the 7-5 victory.

At the game’s end, 16 hits led to seven Utah runs while 11 hits produced five Nebraska runs. Each team left 11 runners on base, but the multiple bases loaded situations left Erstad wanting his club to get back to one thing: competing.

“I don’t think we’re competing like we can and that’s going to be our focus going into tomorrow.”

On a pitch count in his 2017 debut, Burkamper pitched three innings, allowing three runs off six hits, walking one batter with three strikeouts. Utah starting pitcher Jayson Rose pitched 4.2 innings, allowing three runs off six hits and seven walks, striking out six batters. Nebraska reliever Reece Eddins received the loss, allowing three runs in 1.2 innings, yielding six hits while walking two batters. Utah first baseman Hunter Simmons led the Utes at the plate going 4-for-4 with three RBI.

Nebraska returns to action in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge with a Saturday afternoon contest against #5 Oregon State. The Beavers suffered their first loss of the season on Friday, falling to Ohio State 6-1. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m. MT.

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