I will be heading out of town this weekend to join about from 8,000 to 10,000 Boy Scouts at an Army base called Camp Ripley in north central Minnesota over the weekend. I am not 100% sure of everything we'll be doing there, but I'm sure that I won't have access to this blog or a radio, or TV, or most things that you want around when your team is in a NCAA regional. Lousy timing, but when you get an offer to climb on a tank and not get arrested, I suggest you take it.
Nebraska's first game is against UC Riverside this afternoon at 4:00 pm Central time. This is UC Riverside's second trip in school history to the NCAA Tourney, although they haven't been Division I very long. They won the Big West conference this year. The Highlanders will most likely start right-hander James Simmons who is 10-3 with a 2.32 ERA. He's struck out 113 and walked only 13! Opponents are hitting .219 against him. Does UCR open with him against the Huskers or hold a guy like that for a game against top-seeded Arizona State? It's doubtful the Highlanders will chance a 0-1 start, so we'll see their best guy. Their second-best pitcher, Marc Rzepczynski, recently broke a knuckle on his throwing hand, increasing the chances we'll see their best.
That point should be moot to the Huskers. If I were Mike Anderson, I know what I'd tell the boys in red. "It's never about worrying what they're going to do, it's about what we're going to do."
A cliche'? Yes, and a cheesy one at that but at the same time painfully true.
What we can do is play like a Top 10 teams. To do so means that it's time for Tony Watson to shine. Watson has pitched incredibly well at times this season, earning Big 12 pitcher of the week three times. He pitched a ten-inning game against Mizzou in a losing effort, pitched another complete game in a win against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and their big offense, and pitching 8.1 innings in a 7-0 shut-out of national seed Texas.
People have been down on Husker pitching, but we were the only school besides Texas that finished with a team ERA under 4.50 in conference play. We led the league in saves with eight, complete games with three and strikeouts per game with 8.48.
Johnny Dorn, Luke Wertz, Matt Foust - have all pitched incredibly well at times. The Huskers have the tools - it's a matter of them bringing it all together at one time. Last year, the Huskers fell apart, losing to Manhattan in their own regional to end the season. This year they're the underdog - perhaps having lower expectations will make them more determined. This team stayed together when it could have fallen apart after so many distractions - if you don't take my word for it, read Baseball America's Aaron Fitt and his take on Nebraska in his Tempe Regional Preview.
Arizona State is the fifth national seed. Think offense, offense, offense. They have a team batting average of .349, and eleven guys who are hitting over .300. Leading them is Brett Wallace at .426 with 5 home runs and 73 RBI's. We owe them for the loss in the 2005 CWS. That is all.
Nebraska will be without their starting pitcher Mitch Abeita - as it was determined that his fibula was broken during a play against Kansas State, when he was slid into after being eight feet off home plate while attempting to throw out a guy going to first. Add to that the fact that the umpire didn't bother to call interference but instead chose to warn both sides against retaliation. He then tossed Steve Edelfsen for hitting a KSU batter, which earned him a four-game suspension. Never mind that the Big 12 eased up on suspensions for Justin Seely and Steve Edelfsen, after reviewing the game - it was horrible officiating in the first place - so what are they going to do to make it better?
This will be my last post until at least Sunday. I'm not sure I'll have cell phone access, so everything Husker might be a pleasant surprise when I return. I can only hope, right? Y'all enjoy yourselves.