Nebraska Cornhuskers (16-9-1) at Michigan Wolverines (16-12)
Location: Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Dates: April 7-9
Times (all CT): April 7th: 3 pm, April 8th: 1 pm, April 9th: 11 am
Head Coaches: Will Bolt (4th season, 80-61-1) & Tracy Smith (1st season, 821-624-1)
TV/Stream: Friday - BTN; Saturday & Sunday - B1G+
Radio: Huskers Radio Network, Huskers.com, Huskers App
The Wolverines made an almost improbable run in the Big Ten Tournament last year. Despite their wealth of talent, they entered Omaha as the 5 seed, and beat each of the top 4 seeds, sometimes claiming victory as late as 2:30 am. Since that week, Michigan has gone through quite the change.
Gone is coach Erik Bakich and the rest of his staff. He took with him to Clemson both SS Riley Bertram and known cheater and reliever Willie Weiss. Then there is the attrition through graduation and the draft. After all is said and done, their top 4 position players, number 2 pitcher, and top stopper out of the bullpen were gone. Add to that, catcher Jimmy Obertop, their best returning position player, injured his arm in the offseason and has yet to play a single game yet this year.
Despite all that, Michigan is on the rebound. Former Indiana coach Tracy Smith returns to the Big Ten after 7 seasons at Arizona State. He brings with him a one of the top recruiters in the country, Ben Greenspan. He and Smith signed 4 top 10 classes, including the #1 overall class in 2016. So don’t expect Michigan to be “down” from their expectations for long.
The Wolverines started 2023 off incredibly slow, at one point having a record of 5-9. They have gone on quite the tear since, coming into the weekend at 16-12. MIchigan has a 5-1 conference record after two weeks, consisting of a sweep against Penn State and 2-1 series win over Illinois. Penn State is 1-5 so far, and Illinois, obviously is 2-4. So this weekend should be their first true test against a team with with a roster that has a skill level to match theirs, along with experience.
Game 1: LHP Emmett Olson (5-1, 3.37 ERA) vs. LHP Connor O’Halloran (5-1, 2.09 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Jace Kaminska (5-1, 2.27 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Allen (3-2, 5.11 ERA)
Game 3: LHP Will Walsh (1-1, 2.87) vs. TBD
With the game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi being a blowout last Saturday, the coaching staff was able to sit ace Emmett Olson after 6 innings and 87 pitches (low pressure pitches, at that). While he had a season low 4 Ks, it was his 3rd game in a row without allowing a home run, something that had become a trend. He has also only given up a combined 2 BBs/HBP over his last 4 games, which is a big turnaround.
Jace Kaminska is coming off his worst game as a Husker. 5 runs (4 earned) over 4 innings at Abilene Christian were all his worst of the season and handed him his first loss as a Husker. Until that outing, Kaminska has been maybe the most consistent player on the Huskers’ roster, so I wouldn’t expect the struggles to continue for long, if at all.
Sunday has been the issue for Nebraska all season. A 1-4 record has seen a few different attempts to find a consistent starting pitcher. Will Walsh has gone from platoon player at 1B/DH to the guy that is hopefully their long term answer as #3 pitcher. His last 3 outings have been spectacular. He retired his first 11 batters in relief at Creighton. He made his first start against North Dakota State and went 7 innings with 11 Ks and only 1 earned run. In his final warmup for Sunday, he threw a scoreless 1.1 innings at Kansas St.
For Michigan, Friday night starter Connor O’Halloran has been as good this year as they could hope. He is currently leading the conference with a 2.09 ERA. He has a record of 5-1, with his lone loss was to nationally ranked TCU. O’Halloran went 7 innings, had 10 Ks and gave up 3 earned runs, so he can hardly be the one to blame.
Chase Allen moved from back of the bullpen guy in 2022 to Saturday starter this year, and the results have been mixed. He is 3-2 on the year with a 5.11 ERA. He’s been dominant in 1 start, so-so in a couple, and bad in 2. Sunday has also been a struggle for the Wolverines. They have gone with Jacob Denner for the majority of the 3rd games for Michigan this season. More often than not, it ends up being a bullpen game.
Michigan Scouting Report
Michigan’s offense has been an adventure so far in the season, though it has been much improved over the last 2 weeks. Ted Burton has been the most consistent everyday starter. He is leading the regulars in batting at .301, home runs with 5, and RBIs with 25. The hottest hitter at the moment, and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the week is Jonathan Kim. Kim has really come on since being inserted in the starting lineup on March 10th at Kennesaw State, and is batting .456, with 2 home runs and 16 RBIs.
Kim is actually the 3rd Michigan player this year to win Freshman of the week. Greg Pace Jr. won on Feb 27, but the HS All-American has cooled since, only batting .136 on the season. Former Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year Mitch Voit won the award on March 13th. The third baseman and closer has had a strong freshman campaign. He is 2nd on the team with a .295 avg, but is hitting .389 over the last 10 games, and is also 2nd with 4 HRs and 21 RBIs. On the mound, Voit has an ERA of 3.63, with 17.1 innings pitched in 10 appearances.
Noah Rennard has been the weapon of choice out of the bullpen for the Wolverines. He’s thrown 32.1 innings in 13 appearances, sporting an ERA of 3.34 with 32 Ks. The pitching staff as a whole has an ERA of 5.66, which is tied for 9th in the B1G. They are just ok on defense. Their fielding percentage is .972, which is 6th in the B1G and 102nd nationally. Voit is actually the biggest culprit here, as his 7 errors leads the team.
Nebraska is 17-15 against Michigan all time, and 16-12 since the Huskers joined the Big Ten.
Michigan won the series 2-1 in 2022. If you remember the lone Husker win, Michigan actually took the lead on a Big Ten record 4 straight home runs, only to have their pitching completely fall apart in the next half inning and give up 6 runs, mostly on walks, wild pitches, and hit-by-pitches.
Nebraska was swept in their last visit to Ann Arbor, in 2016.
- Nebraska’s bullpen has not allowed allowed a run since since the series finale of Illinois, an 18.1 scoreless inning streak.
- D1Baseball has released their mid-season power rankings of each position. 4 Huskers appear on their lists. Max Anderson, unsurprisingly, is the #3 ranked 2nd baseman. Brice Matthews is #8 ranked short stop. Jace Kaminska is the #56 starting pitcher, while Emmett Olson checks in at #65.
- CJ Hood has been throwing off the mound, and could make his first appearance of the year in the next couple weeks after recovering from an arm injury.