Going into this academic year, we thought the top end of Nebraska’s pitching staff would take a hit, with co-aces Emmitt Olson and Jace Kaminska being drafted into the MLB and closer/stopper Shay Schanaman graduating and signing a contract with the Braves. We then saw the talent Bolt and his new assistants, Rob Childress and Mike Sirianni, seemed to amass to put atop the Haymarket Park mound, and it appeared that the depth should be vastly improved, and maybe getting back to where it was pre-Covid. Game 1 of the fall season seemed to feed that notion.
The game was played over 14 innings, and treated as two 7 inning games by the coaches. Nebraska won both, with a score of 8-3 over the first 7 innings, and 10-7 over the last 7. Rather than go score by score, like a traditional game, let’s take a look at each of the three major parts of the game and see what stood out.
The star of the night was pitching. Save for forgettable innings by Jackson Brockett, spotting the Mavs a 4-0 lead in the first inning of game 2, and Mason McConaughey losing the strike zone and giving up 3 walks/HBPs on the way to allowing 3 runs in only 0.1 inning, the rest of the Husker staff held Omaha to 3 runs over 12 innings.
Drew Christo got things started and looked like something clicked this offseason. He gave up only 1 hit and struck out 3 in 2 innings of work. Most importantly for Christo though, zero walks. Former Northwestern State closer Kyle Froelich took the mound next and struggled mightily in his first inning, looking the least impressive of the pitchers in game 1. He did limit the damage to one run and went out and tossed a scoreless frame in the 4th inning, showing what having an experienced pitcher with a lot of innings under his belt can do.
Lightly used returnees Jalen Worthley and Will Rizzo each pitched an inning and gave up a leadoff home run a piece, but quickly retired the remaining hitter of their respective innings, throwing 9 and 12 pitches total respectively.
JuCo transfer reliever Casey Daiss came out for the 7th, and looked really impressive. He had a smooth 3⁄4 delivery and looked to be slinging a slider of some sort up there. He struck out two of the three batters he faced and barely broke a sweat.
After Brockett’s struggle of an inning to lead off game 2, Childress turned to the only freshman to take the mound on the night in Beatrice right hander Tucker Timmerman. Timmerman was the #2 rated HS right hander in Nebraska last year, and looked the part. He routinely pumped in 96 MPH fastballs, and mixed in a breaking pitch to strike out 2 batters over his 2 perfect innings.
Caleb Clark continued the trend, tossing a perfect inning himself, with 1 K. A locked in Clark could go a long way to helping this staff making a lot of improvements in 2024. Following McConaughey’s rough night, Kyle Perry toed the rubber in preparation for his medical hardship granted 6th year. He was locked in, needing only 8 pitches to retire the Mavs. He is the unquestioned vocal leader of this team, and has been for quite some time, he may not regain his form from his Freshman or even Sophomore year, but he will still be an asset.
Two-way player Evan Borst out of Iowa Western CC closed out the night, looking impressive with 2 Ks in his inning of work. He could be the rare pitcher/pinch-hitter as he is an incredibly speedy base runner.
Overall thoughts on pitching
Biggest takeaway tonight? 6 total free passes over 14 innings, with 3 of those by McConaughey as he just had probably the most off night in his life. He was looked at as potentially competing for a weekend starting spot coming out of Cloud City CC (next week’s opponent) so look for him to bounce back.
My other takeaway, there are more guys on this team with varied arm slots and releases than the past few year too. Especially with relievers, it’s surprising how much it can help having guys throwing in different manners, so long as they throw strikes. Needing a pitch to get a good look at a guys release from the batter’s box can put a batter down 0-1 and playing defense in the , instead of searching out pitches.
Only 1 error over the 14 innings for the defense, and overall made the correct plays on most occasions. My only real gripe was with pop-ups. It was a typical windy night at Hawks Field, and even the returning players struggled. That has to be a focus prior to the start of the season, because it just awards the opposing team free outs.
For personnel, Dylan Carey unsurprisingly slid over to SS from 3B last season. Maybe the biggest surprise was last season’s projected starting CF Cayden Brumbaugh moved back to his natural position of 2B. Taking his place in CF was Canadian JuCo Riley Silva, and he looked like a Casey Burnham clone out there.
One last takeaway was Clay Bradford’s play in RF. Cole Evans is serviceable, but Bradford may have the strongest arm in years out in RF, and seems to pick up the ball of the bat quicker than Evans as well. I expect the Sr transfer from St. Mary’s to work his way into a platoon as he is a LH batter vs Evan’s RH, but may end up as the full time starter by the time conference season rolls around.
We talked about Silva and Brumbaugh earlier, and they were equally as impressive on offense, Brumbaugh started the scoring on the evening as he walked (his first of 3 on the night), then continuing his Burnham-clone role, Silva laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. A few pitches later, Brumbaugh took off for 3rd, swiping the base, and then jogged home as the catcher threw the ball into the outfield. Speed, speed, speed!!
The top 2 hitters each reached base 3 times, 3 walks for Brumbaugh, and 3 hits for Silva, including a bunt for a hit, and a double. It pains me to think of how much better the 2023 offense would have been with Brumbaugh hitting in front of Max Anderson and Brice Matthews.
Dylan Carey manned the 3 spot in the order and he and Garret Anglim provided the pop on the night, as Anglim unleashed a no doubter home run in the 2nd inning, and Carey had 2 home runs in his first 2 at bats of “game 2”. The other returnee expected to provide some major pop is Gabe Swanson. He had a rough night, going 0-5, with 2 fly outs to right field, which I honestly think is 2 more than the pull hitter had all of last season.
Get up, kid!— Nebraska Baseball (@HuskerBaseball) September 30, 2023
Big Red lead 13-7 through 11. pic.twitter.com/dOlbsNtSsq
Another familiar name that had a strong night at the plate was Will Walsh. The man expected to secure one of the weekend rotation spots reached base in all 4 plate appearances, and added 2 runs and an RBI.
As for the newcomers, Tyler Stone manned first base and the cleanup spot in the order. He showed his patience and walked twice, but failed to show off the power he is expected to bring to the 2024 Huskers. Speaking of power, freshman Case Sanderson out of Missouri looks like he could provide quite a bit of it. He is one of the guys you want leading the team off the bus, and he’s only a freshman. He gave us a little glimpse of his power, slicing a double the opposite way, part of his 2 hit night.
A pair of JuCo infielders also had impressive nights. Dylan Hufft who spent part of the night at 3B and flipped with Carey at SS went 2 for 3 and added a pair of walks. He also looked to be an asset on the base paths on his way to 2 runs scored. Rhett Stokes, formerly of New Mexico Military Institute took over at 2B for game 2 and went 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored and an RBI.
Overall Thoughts on Offense
It was a good debut for a lot of players, and some veterans came up big. This offense looks a lot more versatile with more guys that can hurt you in a variety of different ways. I highly doubt there is anyone who will directly fill in statistically for either Max Anderson or Brice Matthews, but the offense as a whole looks like it has some good parts to develop over the next few months in preparation for the regular season.
Only 4 scoreless innings out of 14 and more walks and more hits than strikeouts makes it seem like Nebraska could be in for a lot more consistent offense, not relying on the first 4 hitters to do almost all the damage as in 2023.
Nebraska will host Cloud City CC in its final Fall Ball game before the Red-White series. The Thunderbirds will be in Lincoln on Saturday, October 7th, with first pitch scheduled for 1pm CT.