Nebraska Cornhuskers (21-11-1) at Iowa Hawkeyes (26-10)
Location: Duane Banks Stadium, Iowa City, IA
Date: April 21-23, 2023
Times (all CT): April 21: 6:05 p.m.; April 22: 2:05 p.m.; April 23: 1:05 p.m.
Head Coaches: Rick Heller (302-185, 10th season) and Will Bolt (85-63-1, 4th season)
Radio: Huskers Radio Network, Huskers.com, Huskers App
When one looks at this weekend’s matchup in Iowa City, Nebraska enters the three-game series on top of the Big Ten standings with a 7-2 conference record. Iowa is tied for 8th sitting at 4-5 against conference foes. Last weekend Iowa took two of three from Minnesota, who is now tied with them in 8th place, and then got 10-run ruled by a sub .500 University of Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday before notching a 6-1 win on Wednesday over Bradley.
On paper, the Cornhuskers should be a favorite despite playing on the road. However, that would be a mistake as this series is always a dogfight. In preseason polls, pundits picked Iowa to finish higher than Nebraska, and current RPI shows Iowa at 58 while Nebraska is at 108. You can throw out the numbers as this is the biggest series in the conference thus far this season.
Coach Will Bolt’s Cornhuskers travel to Iowa City on a four-game unbeaten streak. Last weekend they dominated Northwestern, sweeping the three-game series at Haymarket Park. Then, after another slow start against an in-state foe, Nebraska was rallying in the bottom of the seventh inning against Creighton loading the bases with no outs when the game was suspended. Despite the fact that the game will not be finished until most likely May 9, the Big Red has some momentum as they take on the Hawkeyes.
The outcome of each of the three games may very well come down to which team executes the best and avoids mistakes. A game may turn based on who can get down a bunt or whether a ball in the dirt gets away from a catcher. Both coaches stress fundamentals and basics, and it will be interesting to see how and when they try to move runners as well as make decisions as to how long to go with a particular pitcher.
Adding to the interest is that Nebraska tops the league in pitching and Iowa is second, yet last week both of the Friday starters had perhaps their worst outing of the season. As a team, Nebraska is hitting 30 points better than the Hawkeyes, and the team has been on a home run tear lately. Will those hot bats travel well to Iowa City?
Nebraska’s offense has been outstanding in recent weeks, and for that matter, significantly better this season than it was a year ago. The Cornhuskers are the only school in the country to rank among the 10 most-improved offenses in batting average, slugging percentage, scoring, doubles per game and home runs per game from the 2022 season to the 2023 season.
Juniors Brice Matthews and Max Anderson lead the effort as both are hitting above .400 at this point in the season. Virginia is the only other team in the country that has two hitters above that mark. Anderson is hitting .417 with 13 doubles, two triples, 13 homers, and 45 RBI. Matthews is hitting at a .409 clip, also with 13 homers, nine doubles, two triples, 13 and 53 RBI. Gabe Swansen, who will return to his home state to play against a couple of high school teammates, has also tagged a number of long-balls with 10 home runs on the season. Nebraska also has a 14-game home run streak, totaling 31 in that stretch.
Game 1: LHP Emmett Olson (5-1, 3.35 ERA) vs. RHP Brody Brecht (3-2, 3.20 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Jace Kaminska (5-2, 3.98 ERA) vs. RHP Marcus Morgan (1-1, 5.34 ERA)
Game 3: TBD vs. RHP Ty Langenberg (3-2, 4.87 ERA)
Emmett Olson will make his tenth start of the season as he leads off the series on the mound Friday night. For most of the season he has been all a team could want in a Friday starter as he was pitching consistently into the sixth, seventh, and even the eighth inning as he did two weeks back against Michigan. He works fast and keeps hitters off balance with a good mix of pitches.
All was looking really good until his last outing against Northwestern where he struggled with his command, giving up four walks, two hits and three runs in 3.1 innings vs. the Wildcats. Hopefully that is an outlier as it will be critical that the Cornhuskers get off to a good start in this series.
After given the weekend off against Northwestern, Jace Kaminska is back in his usual spot this Saturday to face the Hawkeyes. The right hander brings in a 5-2 record, though he took the loss in his last two starts against Abilene Christian and Michigan. Most of that stems from falling behind in the count, thus having to put pitches over more of the plate. The coaching staff opted to give him a week to re-group as he did a very good job earlier in the season. Look for Kaminska to start off with more balance between his fastballs and breaking pitches.
While the Cornhusker pitcher for Sunday is officially TBD, it is a very good bet that it will be a left hander, either Jackson Brockett or Will Walsh. The two of them started games last weekend and have been very successful attacking the strike zone. Both of them have also worked long relief, so who starts Saturday may very well come down to whether either one of them is needed on Friday or Saturday. Brockett has been the go-to guy in that role.
Nebraska is going to face a trio of right-handed starters, with Brody Brecht being their best. The sophomore has been a dual-sport athlete at Iowa until announcing this spring that he was going to stop playing football to focus on baseball, which makes sense when you are wide receiver in Brian Ferentz’s offense. The 2022 Freshman All-American can bring it, having been clocked at 100 mph. However, last week Minnesota had his number as they scored five earned runs on three hits and four walks. However, he did get the win against then number one ranked LSU earlier in the season.
Marcus Morgan is another sophomore and can count a win against a ranked Texas Tech team. Thus far, he has only made it five innings twice in seven starts this season. Ty Langenberg gets the call for the Sunday game, his ninth start of the season. He has only gone past the fifth inning once.
When looking at the fact that the starters have not gone deep into games, that has not been a problem for the Hawkeyes as their bullpen has been very strong all season. Middle relievers Jared Simpson and Zach Voelker have combined to throw 65.1 innings, with a 75:34 strikeout to walk ratio. The duo also sports are record of 7-2. Will Christophersen is the closer and has made nine appearances this season, pitching 14.1 innings and striking out 28 batters.
Iowa Scouting Report
Iowa is led by arguably the best coach in the Big Ten Conference as Rick Heller is approaching his 1000th win in his 36th year as a head coach. He has had opportunities to go to schools in stronger baseball conferences, but has declined as he is coaching where he always wanted to coach. What is most striking is that has built a very strong program without the resources many schools have, and with players from Iowa. He and his staff are developmental coaches, building potential into quality players.
As a team this year, Iowa is currently 26-10 and 2-0 over Division III teams from the American Rivers Conference, having defeated both the Loras College Duhawks and Coe College. They are also 1-0 over NAIA schools. This points to the question as to how good this team really is.
They have notched a number of wins, but have lost series to Texas Tech, Maryland, and Indiana, the better teams they have played this season. At the same time, they beat LSU in the second week of the season. The series they have won have been against South Dakota State, Western Michigan, and Minnesota. One thing is for sure, they play well at home as they are 12-2 this season.
Pitching is the strength of the team, ranking sixth in the country in hits allowed per nine innings (7.24) and 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (11.1). Their team defense is also strong with a .975 fielding percentage. The offense is led by Keaton Anthony, who is hitting .370 with an NCAA leading 20 doubles.
The Hawkeyes have also been tearing it up on the bases with 62 stolen bases thus far, and five different players having five or more. Anthony was recently names to the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award Watch List, and shortstop Michael Seegers has been named to the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award Watch List.
There seems to be a little bit of a mystery as to how the two schools have fared against each other over the years. Iowa claims to have a 26-25 advantage all-time over the Cornhuskers, while Nebraska has the series tied at 23-23. Regardless, it is close! Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Iowa does hold a 16-10 advantage.
The Hawkeyes came into Lincoln last year and took two of three from the Big Red in a series where Iowa won game one 1-0. Rain forced the Saturday game to be postponed and on Sunday, Nebraska blew out the boys from Iowa City 12-1 in the early game. Iowa then prevailed in extra innings of Game 2 by a score of 5-3.
Husker Notes from the Past Week
On Tuesday evening, the game vs. Creighton was delayed in the bottom of the 7th inning tied at 4-4. Nebraska had the bases loaded with no outs and Gabe Swansen coming to bat. The game will be finished prior to the May 9 game vs the Bluejays in Omaha.
Nebraska flexed their muscle against conference foe Northwestern winning all three games, including an 18-5 victory on Sunday that featured seven Cornhusker home runs, a triple, and six doubles. Nebraska is one of three teams this season to homer seven times in a game.
Gabe Swansen had an incredible weekend going 7 for 10 at the plate including three home runs. He also has 10 home runs on the season. Along with Brice Matthews and Max Anderson who have 13 homers each, this is the first time since 2005 that Nebraska has had three players with 10 or more home runs.
Brice Matthews was name to the 2023 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by the College Baseball Foundation. This award honors the nation’s top shortstop.