Nebraska baseball has been turning heads after its underwhelming start to the season last year. If one thing is for sure, this Husker team may be one of the best we’ve seen in a while.
With the Huskers not even in the preseason top six for the Big Ten, it appears they’ve caught the attention of the national media by now. In Baseball America’s most recent tournament field projection, Nebraska is sitting with a three seed as one of the last four teams in.
D1 Baseball has also recognized Nebraska’s rise in the Midwest rankings. But why does all this attention matter?
Nebraska’s 11-4 record marks its best start to a season since 2008, a campaign where it ultimately hosted a regional. As an underrated team coming into the season, the Huskers are outperforming expectations and showing signs of dominance, especially on the mound.
Junior pitcher Cade Povich is a major reason for this, turning into the “ace” of the pitching staff. After being a Sunday starter last year, Povich has quickly become one of the more reliable pitchers in this rotation.
He earned himself Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for his dominant performance against Minnesota. Sporting a curveball that can bend back into the zone with ease and a fastball that can paint corners, Povich has found a rhythm on the mound, striking out 32 in four starts. Overall, he has a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 3.68.
Taking over the closing role after an injury to junior pitcher Colby Gomes, junior two-way player and captain Spencer Schwellenbach has also contributed to the Huskers’ success.
Whether it be on the mound or at the plate, Schwellenbach continues to show the makings of a player who has big league potential. He’s batting .333 — third best on the team, and continues to provide loud outs, forcing opposing pitchers to throw more pitches.
Recently, he entered the 99 mph “heat sheet” with a fastball that has constantly blown away hitters at the plate late in games. For a team that has had a hard time finding consistent arms out of the bullpen, Schwellenbach has emerged as a shutdown closer who head coach Will Bolt can rely on in high leverage spots.
Sitting in a tie with Michigan for second place in the Big Ten matches exactly where the coaching staff expected this team to be at the start of the season. After a series sweep of Minnesota, the Huskers have now won six straight and are one of the hottest teams in the nation.
The newcomers have shined as well in their first couple of games, with some becoming staples in the order already. Freshman infielder Max Anderson has come out of the gates hot with four home runs and 15 RBIs and has been a regular in the five-spot for Bolt.
Freshman infielders Brice Matthews and Jack Steil have gotten playing time and taken advantage of the opportunity, with 13 combined RBIs this year. They both provide solid bench bats and have earned the trust of Bolt when called upon to compete.
In the batter’s box for Nebraska, the mindset remains the same which is to stay patient and have an approach. This hitting philosophy has been a favorite for Bolt, and in turn the Huskers lead the Big Ten in walks, having drawn 77 walks in only 15 games.
Junior outfielder Cam Chick has come alive after his grand slam against Iowa and seven runs batted in this past weekend. Moving into the cleanup spot, Chick has a team-leading 18 RBIs, which also ranks fourth in the conference.
As important as it is to get runners on base and throw strikes, the defense is what has kept Nebraska in games. It ranks highest in the Big Ten in terms of fielding percentage at .987.
A team’s defensive performances often go overlooked in baseball, and the Huskers have stayed true to their style by nailing the nuances in their form. Bolt preaches the importance of strong fielding, and it has translated to the team’s record thus far.
The Huskers’ RPI rating continues to falter as the conference-only schedule weighs down their ranking. Sitting at a measly 94th, Nebraska trails teams who have played more competitive opponents up to this point in non-conference play.
However, the upside is there for a squad which has made a name for itself after only four weekends of play. With a solid core of players and a pitching staff that can hold their own, Nebraska figures to be a team to watch come summertime.
With Povich on the mound and a strong defense behind him, the Huskers will look to continue their hot streak with another series win against Illinois this weekend.