Nebraska will now start its four-game series with defending national champion Oregon State with a doubleheader on Friday.
The opener originally scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday in Surprise, Arizona, was postponed due to rain. The two teams will now play a doubleheader Friday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
NU will then face Oregon State at 6 p.m. Saturday and conclude the series at 10 a.m. Sunday.
The Huskers (3-1) hope to build off the encouraging signs they showed last weekend in the season-opening series against UC Riverside.
Huskers flashed encouraging signs in season-opening series. Next up? The defending national champs
LINCOLN — Connor Curry smiles wryly recalling the day he was thrown into the fire.
The left-hander from Lincoln Southeast did anything but ease into college baseball. Battling butterflies and a tidal wave of adrenaline in February 2017, he managed to record six outs against top-10 Oregon State. He also allowed three runs during that lopsided Husker loss.
“It was a little rough,” Curry said. “But now I’ve got two more years under my belt. I haven’t pitched a lot, but I’m ready to go. They’re just another team on the plate.”
NU flashed some encouraging signs in winning three of four games in its season-opening series at UC Riverside last weekend. But perhaps as important as any measurable is the mentality within the program that Oregon State — the defending College World Series champion — is simply next on the schedule.
The Huskers face the Beavers (4-0) in a four-game set beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday in Surprise, Arizona. But they don’t care that OSU has gone 111-18-1 the past two seasons. Or that catcher Adley Rutschman is the potential No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft this summer. Or that Nebraska is 1-6 all time against the club, losing twice each of the past two years.
Coach Darin Erstad said last month he embraces a treacherous nonconference schedule because it steels his team for Big Ten play and gives it a better shot at the postseason. He doesn’t look at what the opposing uniform reads, and neither should his players.
“It’s just the way it is,” Erstad said. “No, it’s not natural to anybody. But we don’t let anybody dictate how we go about our business. You start putting more importance on this game, it’s gotta balance out somewhere. You’re going to put less importance on another game. Last time I checked, that doesn’t work very well. We’re just going to go do our thing and play and get after it.”
Seventh-ranked Oregon State could be vulnerable as it adjusts to losing seven regular position players and ace Luke Heimlich from its title squad. Conversely, it retains every other pitcher who threw at least 10 innings last year, including senior Bryce Fehmel and sophomore Kevin Abel. Fehmel allowed one run in eight innings against Gonzaga last weekend while Abel — the first player to win four games at a CWS — lasted five innings in the opener against New Mexico.
The Beavers also are dealing with changes at the top. Interim coach Pat Bailey took over after the sudden retirement of 24-year icon Pat Casey in the offseason and is working for the permanent title. Casey, now a senior associate athletic director at OSU, has a provision in his contract in which he can request to be reassigned as coach if requested by June 1 or earlier.
Oregon State is off to an unbeaten start anyway, including a 13-1 pounding of reigning Big Ten champ Minnesota. It has committed one error so far, which is among the best in the country.
Yet Nebraska is unfazed. Sophomore outfielder Aaron Palensky, a Papillion-La Vista South grad, grew up a 20-minute drive from the CWS and saw Oregon State play multiple times. “I don’t feel like it really matters a whole lot,” he said. Not as long as the Huskers’ heads are right.
“A lot of teams probably get scared when they play them,” Curry said. “Coach (Erstad) has talked about it, our mentality. We just go out there and fight and we’re ready to go no matter who we play. It’s just another jersey.”
Scouting Nebraska (3-1)
The Huskers enter the series as a top-10 scoring offense after posting 47 runs in their first four games. While Nebraska didn’t hit any home runs, it reached base at a 44 percent clip and hit .412 (33 of 80) with runners in scoring position.
Another positive was nine stolen bases, which ranks 21st nationally. Nebraska had 34 (242nd) all of last year and has never cracked 62 (or the top 100) in seven years in the Big Ten. “I think we have a little more depth there,” said Erstad, also noting the team’s early success on reads with balls in the dirt and hit and runs. Freshman Spencer Schwellenbach has three steals.
Kyle Perry, a freshman from Millard South, will make his first collegiate start while the other three pitchers will stay on normal rest from their starts last weekend. “He’s a young kid who likes to compete,” Erstad said of Perry. None of the announced probables allowed an earned run at UC Riverside.
Curry threw four scoreless innings on 51 pitches in his first game back from Tommy John surgery. He said Tuesday the plan is to build stamina and eventually be a weekend starter.
Scouting Oregon State (4-0)
The reigning national champs will keep the same four-man rotation from last weekend that netted them two wins over New Mexico and single victories against Gonzaga and defending Big Ten champion Minnesota. They return nearly every pitcher of significance from last year’s 55-12-1 team outside of Heimlich and own a team ERA of 2.25 that ranks 30th nationally.
Rutschman, a junior catcher, is the consensus top prospect in this year’s MLB draft class after earning MVP honors at the CWS a season ago. He’s hitting .333 with two home runs a year after posting a .408 average with nine homers and 83 RBIs. Rutschman joins first baseman Zak Taylor as the only returning lineup regulars from 2018. DH Alex McGarry (.636, seven RBIs) and outfielders Tyler Malone (.500) and Kyler McMahan (.444) are off to sizzling starts.
Nebraska owns one win in seven tries against OSU, beating the then-No. 1 Beavers 9-2 in 2014. The teams have met twice each of the last two seasons, with the Pac-12 school winning all by a combined score of 34-7. “It’s one of those things where, yeah, if you don’t play well you’re going to get your tail kicked,” Erstad said. “We gotta play our game.”
Surprise Stadium is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. The field measures 350 feet down the lines, 379 in the alleys and 400 to center.
One place the teams differed last weekend was fielding. Oregon State committed one error while Nebraska had seven. Of course, the Huskers hadn’t practiced outside until warming up for their season opener.
Of Nebraska’s next 15 games, 12 are against returning NCAA qualifiers (Oregon State, Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Baylor and New Mexico State). Their combined record after one weekend is 17-1.
Nebraska vs. Oregon State
Where: Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona
Radio: KNCY 1600 AM, 105.5 FM in Nebraska City
1 p.m. Friday: LH Kyle Perry (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RH Kevin Abel (0-0, 7.20)
5 p.m. Friday: RH Chad Luensmann (0-0, 0.00) vs. RH Bryce Fehmel (1-0, 1.12) – NO BROADCAST ON KNCY, BECAUSE OF HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL DISTRICT FINALS
6 p.m. Saturday: LH Nate Fisher (1-0, 0.00) vs. RH Sam Tweedt (0-0, 1.93)
10 a.m. Sunday: RH Colby Gomes (0-0, 0.00) vs. RH Grant Gambrell (0-0, 0.00)