Weekend Preview: Nebraska baseball prepares to host Big Ten leader Rutgers
It was a momentous weekend for Nebraska baseball (12-15). But in a week's time, the Huskers went from crushing baseballs in Columbus and sweeping Ohio State, to leaving the bases loaded in the ninth in a loss to Omaha. It has all culminated in what could be the biggest test of Nebraska's season thus far.
Paying a visit to the Huskers in Lincoln on Friday are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It's the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have won their last seven games and sit atop the Big Ten standings with Illinois at 5-1. The team's overall record of 22-6 is second only to Maryland (23-6) in the league.
Rutgers began Big Ten play two weeks ago against Penn State in College Park, Pennsylvania. After a 6-4 Scarlet Knight win in the opener, the Nittany Lions evened the series claiming a 8-6 victory. Rutgers proved that result was an anomaly by pounding Penn State 20-6 the next day.
The Scarlet Knights haven't lost since.
Last weekend, Rutgers played host to Minnesota and swept the Golden Gophers with relative ease. On Friday, the Scarlet Knights held off a late Minnesota rally for a 6-4 win. Saturday's double header wasn't close. Rutgers won both games in Piscataway 11-2 and then 9-2 notching double-digit hits in both games for a grand total of 22 hits.
Not bad for a team that was picked preseason to finish outside the top six in the conference.
In the other dugout, is Nebraska. The sweep of Ohio State last week made for the Huskers' first three-game series win of the season. Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the emergence of the bats that drove in 30 of 32 runs on 35 hits. 11 of those hits garnered extra bases and four were home runs.
Yet that offensive success didn't translate to Tal Anderson field against the UNO Mavericks on Wednesday. Nebraska fell behind 6-1 but pulled within striking distance with a four-run eighth inning. In the ninth, the Huskers loaded the bases with one out but failed to push the tying run across falling 6-5.
It was a personification of Nebraska's season through the first 27 games.
Despite their nonconference and in-state struggles, Nebraska has a chance this weekend to claim the top spot in the Big Ten. Once again, the Huskers will have to rally following a disappointing loss against a quality opponent.
Friday, April 8th-6:35 p.m.: RHP Shay Schanaman (2-3, 3.26 ERA) vs. RHP Jared Kollar (5-0, 2.66 ERA)
Saturday, April 9th-3:17 p.m.: TBD vs. Nathan Florance (4-1, 3.19 ERA)
Sunday, April 10th-12:05 p.m.: RHP Dawson McCarville (2-3. 6.10 ERA) vs. LHP Justin Sinibaldi (1-0, 4.34 ERA)
***Friday and Sunday's contests will be streamed on BTN+, while Saturday's game will be on BTN. All games can be heard on the Husker Sports Network.
What to watch for
Both Nebraska and Rutgers had wild midweek matchups and found themselves behind entering the eighth inning.
Monmouth held a 4-3 lead on the Scarlet Knights after a four-run sixth. The Scarlet Knights rallied and posted six runs on five hits before claiming a 9-4 victory. On the flip side, the Huskers were down 6-1 at the start of the eighth inning before scoring four runs. Ultimately, Nebraska came out on the losing end.
The midweek was a wild and accurate depiction of each team's season.
Rutgers illustrated its ability to rise to the occasion when challenged while the Huskers showed an inability to sustain momentum. That motif has been rife throughout this year for Nebraska both within games and across the landscape of the schedule as a whole.
The Huskers couldn't keep the energy of the Ohio State series going in Omaha, especially on the offensive end. In the showdown with the Mavs, Nebraska couldn't get anything going at the plate until it was too late. When the Husker bats did show signs of life, they couldn't quite find the final punch to push themselves ahead.
Nebraska will attempt to regain its footing this weekend.
The Rutgers offense is one of the best in the Big Ten. Nebraska's is not.
The Scarlet Knights lead the conference in batting average at .326 and have eight batters hitting .300 or above. Nick Cimillo leads the team at the plate batting .423. Rutgers also leads the league in runs, hits, double, RBIs, on base percentage and is second in slugging and walks.
The Scarlet Knights are first or second in eight out of ten major categories.
On the other hand, Nebraska is tied for dead last in the Big Ten with Minnesota at a .251 average. The leader there in the clubhouse for the Huskers is redshirt freshman Garrett Anglim who is hitting .315. In the areas where Rutgers leads the Big Ten, Nebraska is either ninth or worse.
There will be a lot of pressure placed on the Husker attack throughout the weekend as they attempt to compete with the top bats in the conference. The unknown status of Saturday's starter adds another layer of tension. Shay Schanaman should be able to hold his own on Friday night. The rest of the weekend could be an adventure.
Know your opponent
***The Scarlet Knights' 22-6 record is the best in program history through the first 28 games of the season. Rutgers also is in the midst of its best start to Big Ten play.
***Rutgers has won seven straight contests good for the best winning streak in the Big Ten.
***They extended that streak on Tuesday by scoring six runs in the eighth inning and taking down Monmouth 9-4.
***Rutgers lost a three-game series with UNO earlier this year 2-1.
***The Scarlet Knights swept the Huskers the last time they came to Lincoln before Nebraska traveled to Piscataway weeks later and returned the favor. Rutgers won the season series 3-2.