Illinois State Redbirds (5-6) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-4-1)
Location: Hawks Field At Haymarket Park, Lincoln, NE
Date: March 10-12th
Times (all CT): March 10th (Fri.) @ 4:05 pm, March 11th (Sat.) @ 4:05 pm**TIME CHANGED**, March 12th (Sun) @ 1:05 pm
Head Coach(s): Steve Holm (92-106) & Will Bolt (4th season, 71-56-1)
Radio: Huskers Radio Network, Huskers.com, Huskers App
Nebraska has been on a tear with their offensive numbers as of late. The team is among the NCAA leaders in batting average and doubles. They are being led by juniors Max Anderson and Brice Matthews. Anderson is sitting at 14th in the NCAA with a .489 batting avg. Matthews has really come on strong as the Huskers lead off hitter, after being slid down to the 9 spot for a couple games. He is batting .400 and tied for the team lead in HRs (3), runs (13), and leading the team in RBIs (14).
While the offense has been on a welcome rebound after a down 2022, and the pitching staff has mostly righted the ship after a rough visit to San Diego, the true star for the Huskers has been the defense. It is currently 8th in the country with a .987 fielding percentage with only 5 errors. A big focus by the coaches was to improve that part of the team in the offseason, and it seems to be a huge success.
Looking at the Redbirds, they have struggled so far, against less than stellar competition. Their record sits at 5-6, despite winning 2 of their 3 weekend series. Their best game on the young season was a 10-9 loss in extra innings to #3 Arkansas on a mid week game. Though they are no stranger to playing the Razorbacks tough, as they beat them in 2022.
This year has been a rough one for pitching coach R.D. Spiehs. The former Husker pitcher and teammate of Will Bolt has been involved with a lot of high scoring affairs to start the 2023 season. The pitching staff as a whole only has 4 players currently with an ERA under 8. Combine that stat along with how the Huskers are currently raking at the plate, and you should look for Nebraska to pile up some offensive numbers this weekend.
Game 1: LHP Emmett Olson (1-1, 4.32 ERA) vs. RHP Derek Salata (2-0, 1.72 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Jace Kaminska (2-0, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Tyrelle Chadwick (0-1, 8.49 ERA)
Game 3: TBA vs. TBA
While he may not have the stats we were expecting at this point in the season, Emmett Olson has kept the Huskers in each of the games he’s started, against some pretty good opposing pitching, holding opponents to a .190 batting average. Jace Kaminska has also turned in some stellar performances in his first few appearances as a Husker. While the strikeouts haven’t been at a level he is used to, or Nebraska may have expected, he has been inducing ground balls and piling up out at an incredible rate.
The issue with the Nebraska pitching staff has been Sunday’s starter. Caleb Clark has looked special at some points, but like most freshmen, has issues battling back after adversity. That combined with him throwing 40+ pitches on Wednesday has led coach Will Bolt to say we “probably won’t” see Clark start Sunday. Look for someone like Michael Garza, who has been off to a hot start and is used to being a starter, to take his spot for the time being.
After going 4-6 in his first year as a starter for the Redbirds, Derek Salata is looking great in his move to Friday night starter. After averaging about a strikeout per inning his first four years, the senior has 22 Ks through 15.1 innings so far, highlighted by his 12 Ks in 6 innings of work in a 6-2 win over Arkansas State.
After Salata, Illinois St has gone to freshman Tyrelle Chadwick, who is a son of a former major leaguer and an imposing athlete at 6’4” 220 lbs. He competed on the British Columbia team in high school in both baseball and basketball. He has yet to really put it together for ISU, as he hasn’t thrown a quality start yet in his 3 starts in his career thus far.
Beyond those two, Sunday’s starter is anyone’s guess. It had been Sean Sinisko for the first two games, but he struggled mightily against sub-par competition. He started the previous 2 years, going a combined 7-10, but has only made it though 6.1 innings combined in his 2 starts, accumulating an ERA of 12.79. Last Sunday, the Redbirds went with a different starter in the biggest disaster of a game this season, throwing 9 pitchers in a 22-10 loss to Central Arkansas.
Illinois State Scouting Report
After winning the league in Steve Holm’s first year as coach in 2019, Illinois State has struggled, finishing 6th and 7th in the 8 team Missouri Valley Conference the last two years. Holm was a pitching coach at Purdue before coming to ISU and has R.D. Spiehs on his staff, both having a good history with pitching staffs at their previous stops.
Despite all that experience, this years Redbirds have really struggled. Derek Salata is the star, but even with him, the team’s ERA is 7.69. Expect to see Erik Kubiatowicz and Cameron Mabee as the top two arms out of the Birds’ pen. They have been two of the more utilized pitchers of the past 3 years for the team. Kansas State transfer Elijah Dale may have the best “stuff” of the bullpen. He is leading the pen with 18 Ks in 11+ innings.
Offensively, Illinois State has multiple hot bats to deal with. In fact, freshman Daniel Pacella was named National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball last week, hitting 4 home runs, including a grand slam, in the 3 game series against Central Arkansas. He is hitting .304 with 6 HRs and 15 RBIs to start his career.
A couple of former Nebraska high school athletes are also on the Redbirds’ roster, both by way of Iowa Western CC. Aggie Rasmussen of Blair is hitting .224 with 3 HRs and 14 RBIs, while Blake Stenge of Millard South is hitting .375 with 2 HRs. These two are also a combined 9-9 on stolen bases this year, and the team is 20-23, so look for them to be in motion when they get on base.
Nebraska is 4-0 all time vs Illinois State. The last win was in 2007 as #7 ranked Nebraska won 7-3 at the University of Texas-Arlington Invitational, behind a big day from Andy Gerch.
Husker Notes from the Past Week
Garrett Anglim is out with an injury suffered up in Minnesota for a couple weeks, should be back around the start of Big Ten Conference games.
In its first midweek action, and home opening series, Nebraska swept Northern Colorado in 2 games decided by run rules after the 7th inning, 12-1 on Tuesday and 14-3 on Wednesday. Nebraska has now won 7 of its last 8 games, and has allowed 4 runs or less in all of the wins.