Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-3-1) at South Alabama Jaguars (4-1)
Location: Stanky Field, Mobile, Alabama
Date: February 24-26th
Times (all CT): Feb. 24th (Fri.) @ 6:30 pm, Feb. 25th (Sat.) @ 2 pm, Feb. 26th (Sun) @ 1 pm
Head Coach(s): Will Bolt (4th season, 64-55-1 [god, I have to be reminded of that tie for the rest of time…]) & Mark Calvi (12th season, 346-255)
Stream: ESPN+ (on Saturday and Sunday)
Radio: Huskers Radio Network, Huskers.com, Huskers App
The Huskers, fresh off one of the wildest and most deflating series in recent memory, travel down to Mobile, Alabama to take on the South Alabama Jaguars of the Sun Belt Conference. While the starting pitching for the Big Red had a solid extended weekend, and the offense roared to life with 3 straight 10+ hit games culminating in the 17 hit effort in the 16-16 Monday afternoon tie, it was the bullpen that failed them.
What was thought to be the strength of the team, with 3 former Friday night starters moving back to the bullpen, ended up letting the Huskers down in pretty much every game. How that position rebounds will be the biggest thing to watch in this series.
USA is coming off of hosting the Jaguar Classic at their house last weekend. While not playing a murderers row of teams, they did go 3-1 on the weekend, and won games in different ways, throwing a combined 3 hitter with 14 Ks in a 3-2 win over Northwestern St, and avenging their lone loss (2-0) by blowing the doors off Eastern Kentucky 26-6 in a double header on Saturday. They also played a midweek game, beating Nicholls 5-4 on Wednesday.
Fans of college baseball may be familiar with USA coach Mark Calvi as the pitching coach for South Carolina when they made it to the College World Series in the last few years of Rosenblatt, and culminating in winning the CWS in Rosenblatt’s final year of 2010. He then left to be the coach in waiting for USA in 2011 (when South Carolina also won the CWS in TD Ameritrade Park’s first year), before being hired as the head coach for 2012.
Game 1: LHP Emmett Olson (0-1, 5.06 ERA) vs. RHP Jeremy Lee (0-0, 0.0 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Jace Kaminska (0-0, 4.76 ERA) vs. LHP Gehrig Conard (0-1, 1.80 ERA)
Game 3: LHP Caleb Clark (0-0, 10.38 ERA) vs. LHP Garfield Johns (0-0, 2.08 ERA)
Emmett Olson is the lone Nebraska starting pitcher that had a decision last week. He took the loss after going 5.1 innings, with 5 Ks and 3 earned runs. He pitched well except for giving up a home run to Kevin Sim (who didn’t do that?) and a 2nd inning where he walked Kim to lead off the inning, which is a cardinal sin.
Jace Kaminska looked good in his Husker debut. Like Olson, his issues were Sim related, giving up a 2 run home run, and allowing him to score after plunking him. But prior to hitting Sim, Kaminska had retired 10 straight Torero hitters, on his way to 5.2 innings with 4 Ks, and giving up the 3 earned runs.
Making his first start in his first collegiate game, Caleb Clark looked the part for 4 innings, giving up only a (you guessed it!) solo home run to Kevin Sim as one of his 2 hits and 1 walk. He did striggle mightily in the 5th, as he hit a wall. In the end he gave up 5 earned runs, as Ben Sears allowed all of his inherited runners to score, in 4.1 innings.
USA has the first true Ace of a staff that Nebraska will face in Jeremy Lee. He was a Freshman All-American 2 years ago as USA tried to figure out where to best use him. He ended up 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 9 starts, and had 2 saves. He missed most of last year with an injury. Against Northwestern St, Lee struck out 8 in 5.2 innings, with no walks. He is almost Matt Waldron-like in his strikeouts per walk ratio in his career, so don’t expect many free passes for NU Friday.
Freshman Gehrig Conard (how great is that first name for a baseball player?!) absorbed the lone loss for USA over the weekend. This was despite throwing 5 innings and only giving up 1 run. The other expected starter is Garfield Johns. The JuCo transfer came in and pitched in the blowout win, going 4.1 innings with 9 strikeouts and giving up only 1 earned run.
South Alabama Scouting Report
USA is coming off a 5th place finish last year in the Sun Belt, and was picked to finish 6th this year in the 14 team conference. Like Nebraska, this is unexpectedly down from their conference regular season and tournament championship in 2021, their 4th regular season crown under coach Calvi.
USA lost a lot of offense in the offseason, including their top 3 home run hitters, and only have 1 HR through 5 games so far. They play in a bigger park than San Diego too, so don’t expect to see them hitting the ball out of the park much this weekend. They also lost a lot of pitching depth, so they tried to get old, fast. In fact, the entire roster only has 4 freshmen on the team, true or otherwise.
Their top returners are 2nd team All-Sun Belt 2B Erick Orbeta and leadoff hitter/CF/LHP Will Turner. Orbeta hit .340 last year to finish 2nd on the team, and added 30 RBIs and 47 runs scored. Turner had only 1 error as a freshman while starting 54 games. He was top 5 in the conference in walks and triples. He hit .279 with 5 HRs, 36 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. He added an inning on the mound, striking out 3 batters.
USA added a couple big bats from JuCo and a transfer from Old Dominion in Robbie Petracci. Petracci hit .312 with 19 doubles and 12 HRs as a sophomore at ODU. Mitchell Heer comes to USA as a sophomore after being named the division player of the year for his freshman year at junior college while hitting .387 with 12 doubles, 11 HRs, and 52 RBIs.
You look at the bullpen of the Jags and you see the words “Junior College” in the bio of seemingly 90% of the players. They are definitely looking for more experience in their pitching staff. Look for Grant Wood to be on the mound at the end of big games. He had 22 Ks in 15 innings last year for USA last year as a rSo, and already has 2 saves with 6 Ks in 3 innings in 2023.
This is the first ever meeting between the programs.
Husker Notes From the Past Week
Nebraska’s Dylan Carey is included with Indiana’s Hunter Jessee and Michigan’s Ted Burton as the only three players in the Big Ten with a pair of doubles and homers to begin the season.
Husker’s starting pitching had a record of 0-0 with an ERA of 6.23 in their opening series, while the bullpen had an 0-3 record and ERA of 11.57.