Ticker
baseball Edit

Huskers take hot bats into first midweek series

How to watch/listen
Game TV/Stream Radio TuneIn

Tuesday, March 13: Nebraska vs. Northern Colorado (1:35 p.m. CT)

BTN Plus

1400/590 AM

Husker IMG Sports Network Channel

Wednesday, March 14: Nebraska vs. Northern Colorado (1:35 p.m. CT)

BTN Plus

1400/590 AM

Husker IMG Sports Network Channel

Gates at Haymarket Park will open 90 minutes ahead of first pitch.
Nclkh8rhcqdtionzo4zz
Nebraska heads into its annual Northern Colorado series after amassing 35 runs in Saturday's doubleheader.

On a play that was beautifully metaphorical for being a simple groundout, Nebraska's Jesse Wilkening broke a bat in the seventh inning of Saturday's second game with the Huskers leading 9-2.

Broken bats are not a rare occurrence with the wooden instruments of the majors and summer leagues. To break an aluminum bat, though, you have to be swinging a pretty hot stick.

"There were three of them that broke today, actually," junior Angelo Altavilla said Saturday. "I think that was a good metaphor for (how we were swinging)."

The Huskers blasted Cal Poly in the final three games of the series, blowing out the Mustangs by a combined score of 39-5 after Thursday's unsightly loss. In a dramatic turn of events, Nebraska got sterling starts from pitchers Luis Alvarado, Nate Fisher and Matt Warren to win the series.

The weekend was also the first time Nebraska had opened up at home against a team not named Northern Colorado since 2014, but after two days of rest, the Bears come to Lincoln to continue Nebraska's nine-game home stretch.

The Huskers' series with the Bears has turned into an annual tune-up game, with NU winning nine of the 10 contests between the teams in the last five years. Nebraska has scored eight or more runs in seven of those contests, but this Northern Colorado team could be a bit more formidable with a team scoring average that ranks among the top 25 nationally.

Even so, there aren't many teams that will beat Nebraska when the Huskers are scoring 22 runs in a game. Since sputtering to just two runs in the first 17 innings of the Wichita State series, the Huskers have scored 57 runs in the last 43 innings at the plate.

"Our morale was at a team high," freshman Zac Luckey said after his first career start Saturday. "We were just really vibing with each other and having a lot of fun. No one was anxious to perform because we knew what we could do against this team.

"We knew we were better."

Good baseball teams need that little bit of swagger. With two midweek series and one weekend left in nonconference play, the Huskers need every bit of confidence heading into their Big Ten title defense.

On to the breakdown...

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tuesday, March 13 (1:35 p.m.) - Nebraska RHP Matt Waldron (1-1, 5.06 ERA, 10.2 IP, 7 K) vs. Northern Colorado LHP Keenan Lum (3-1, 5.00 ERA, 18.0 IP, 26 K)

Wednesday, March 14 (1:35 p.m.) - Nebraska RHP Mike Waldron (0-1, 4.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 2 K) vs. Northern Colorado TBA

SCOUTING THE BEARS

Northern Colorado Bears (10-5, 5-game win streak)

Last year: 24-30, 10-14 WAC

2018: Northern Colorado is off to a much better start than the previous five seasons, when losing at least four games in the first two weekends was all but a given. This year, the Bears have yet to drop a series, finishing all square at San Jose State and North Dakota State along with a sweep of South Dakota State last weekend. The Bears can score this year, too, averaging nearly eight runs per game and 9.5 runs per game in wins. UNC is led by Tyler Yamaguchi, Brett Minnick and Cole Maltese, who have combined for 42 RBIs this season and have been three of the most productive hitters for the Bears against Nebraska the last two seasons.

Biggest strength: Gap hitting. Each player in the usual lineup has hit multiple doubles on the year, and the Bears have hit 48 extra base hits as a team this year, good for a top-50 mark nationally. Seven of UNC's starters are slugging over .400 on the year and have the ability to put up huge numbers in single innings. Northern Colorado has put up seven frames with five runs or more this season by showing an ability to string together hits and score quickly.

Biggest weakness: Strength of schedule. This may be a dirty term to use in light of this week's Nebraska basketball happenings, but the one thing you can take away from Northern Colorado is that the stat book has been slightly above average against well below average teams. Not counting a series with Division II Montana State Billings (in which UNC dropped one), Bears opponents are a combined 14-32 on the season. Northern Colorado looks significantly better in most statistical categories this year, but the "prove it" games are yet to come.

THROUGH THE BINOCULARS

1. In light of last weekend, expect to see a lot of new faces in these games.

With newcomers like Zac Luckey, Carter Cross and Nolan Hakel making their mark on last weekend's games, a midweek series against Northern Colorado gives the Huskers an opportunity to try out some new lineups. Freshman Gunner Hellstrom made his first career start over the weekend and can step in as the designated hitter or at catcher. Watch the stands in Haymarket Park for a lot of roster searching, because there will be some unfamiliar faces on the diamond at Hawks Field.

2. The twins start out two more "staff days."

Head coach Darin Erstad said last week the Huskers wouldn't be trying out any new extended starters within their first home stand. While Matt Waldron put in a fine performance last Thursday, the result didn't turn out favorable as NU gave up 10 straight runs to lose. How tight will Matt Waldron's pitch count be on five days' rest? Will either Waldron stay on the mound long enough to make them unavailable for the weekend? Can the midweek bullpen be maneuvered to give the Huskers the best chance to win while not putting any pitchers out of commission? Nebraska has a lot of pitching depth questions it can begin to answer with two solid performances.

3. Hallmark faces a big test in center field.

Northern Colorado likes going gap-to-gap and true freshman center fielder Jaxon Hallmark had some rocky moments in Wichita for his first weekend at the new position. He didn't have too much trouble against Cal Poly, but the rookie will face another test with a Northern Colorado team that can move him around. If he can cover that ground and he and the rest of the Huskers continue the hot hitting, it should be smooth sailing for the Huskers against the Bears.