In the third game of the UTA Invite on Saturday, the Huskers defeated Texas-Arlington 5-4, and it was as close as that score would indicate. The Mavericks went to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Southland Conference in 2006, and remain a quality team.
Thankfully for the Big Red, Erik Bird is already filling the shoes of departed closer Brett Jensen.
[Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations]
Bird is quickly gaining the "closer's mentality". After Zach Herr left him a mess in the eighth inning, Bird struck out the last two batters to put the inning to rest. In the ninth, Bird walked the leadoff batter, but induced a ground ball and got the last batter to fly out to left field to end the threat, and the game. Bird already has two saves this season, and at this rate he'll break Brett Jensen's Nebraska record of 16 saves in a season.
Ryan Wehrle got his first hit of the season with a solo home run to lead off the sixth inning. When Wehrle gets rolling, this team will win a lot of games. Jeff Lanning and Thad Weber continued their hot hitting, as each notched three hits and one RBI. With those two, there should be little dropoff from the production that Jeff Christy and Brandon Buckman provided with last season. Watch out for Lanning. He could be a special hitter.
On Saturday, the fielding glove was on the other hand -- if you'll pardon the terrible pun -- as Texas-Arlington was the team that couldn't field a lick. With winds in the 25-35 mph range, the Mavericks committed four errors, helping Nebraska score three crucial runs in the first inning. The Huskers erred once (Wehrle), bringing their season total to seven through three games. All of last season, the Big Red had only 61 errors in 59 games, so this is a pace that needs to slow. It's early, though, this is to be expected.
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Sunday's finale against Illinois State is set to commence at 11:30 a.m. CST. With all the preseason talk from Mike Anderson about Drew Bowman getting a shot at the rotation, I've got to think that he's going to get the ball on Sunday.
While I was wrong about Chris Taylor taking the mound for UTA on Saturday, I feel a lot more confident in projecting the Illinois State starter. Senior Luke Baughman is slated to start the game.
He's a 6-2, 205 lb right-hander that doesn't have overpowering stuff. He posted a 5.25 ERA in 2006, and as far as I can tell, throws a lot of pitches and doesn't get past the 5th or 6th inning often. His career high for strikeouts is only five, which is telling.
The Huskers played the Redbirds last April and racked up 22 runs and 23 hits over two games. Illinois State managed to score 13 runs, though, and much of the offense is back.
I don't like the term "trap game", but this smells like one. Nebraska hasn't been playing particularly well, an untested pitcher will be toeing the rubber for the Big Red, and Illinois State can score runs. Hopefully Mike Anderson can keep the kids' minds in the game on getaway day.
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