As Nebraska players gathered to speak to the media just days before they would head down to Waco, Texas to kick off their season against Baylor, many of them, including junior outfielder Aaron Palensky, made their goal very clear: make the College World Series.
Palensky, who led the team with a .320 batting average and had seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 2019, spoke of the team’s desire to take a big leap forward and turn their goals into reality.
“I would love to see a super regional back here in Lincoln, that is something we all want to make happen,” Palensky said. “For myself personally and I know other guys feel the same way, I am just praying every day for us to be able to bring the Cornhuskers back to Omaha.”
Nebraska came close to that goal in 2019, finishing with a 32-24 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance, but went 1-2 in regional play. After the season, former head coach Darin Erstad stepped down from his position and former Husker Will Bolt took the helm this year. He will look to help his alma mater take a step forward this season as expectations will be high entering his first season after leaving his assistant coach role at Texas A&M.
Nebraska will enter the season with an entirely new weekend rotation as Bolt will begin the year with senior Gareth Stroh, sophomore Colby Gomes and sophomore Cade Povich taking the bump against Baylor. The new-look rotation will be put to the test to start the season for the Huskers but despite their youth, Bolt has confidence in his staff to get the job done.
“We had a pretty good idea going back to the fall of who was going to be some of the guys who we could count on to start, turn the lineup over and build some pitch counts,” Bolt said. “As far as the order goes, Stroh has the most experience being a fifth-year senior, [he] has been there and done that so he is the guy I am starting off with and the other guys have shown us that they are more than capable.”
Along with Palensky, senior outfielder Mojo Hagge, senior outfielder Joe Acker, junior catcher Gunner Hellstrom, sophomore infielder Spencer Schwellenbach and many other experienced hitters are returning to the Huskers’ lineup. With an experienced team in the field, Bolt felt like he will be able to experiment with the offense and do things he otherwise would be unable to without the experience of his team.
“I think we have some veterans who have been in college baseball and this is a little bit different of a system than they’re used to but they are very smart guys,” Bolt said. “We have been implementing this stuff since October with them after we saw them in the fall, so I think they will be ready knowing the signs and knowing what expectations are as baserunners.”
The Huskers begin play Friday, Feb. 14th against Baylor on the road to kick off the season before Big Ten play begins in late March with a three-game set against Northwestern. That is followed by a difficult stretch against both Michigan and Ohio State in late April and into early May, leading up to the Big Ten Tournament which begins on May 20 in Omaha.
Michigan and Ohio State will once again highlight a talented Big Ten, providing a difficult stretch of competition for the Huskers throughout the latter portion of their schedule. Bolt has made it clear he is looking to make sure his squad takes the season one game at a time and simply focuses on the present.
“That is our focus since we have been here in our practice settings, our guys have to be ready and focused because they never know what we have planned to throw at them each day,” Bolt said. “Because if you don’t come focused on the present and what you are doing at that moment you’re going to get exposed.”
The Huskers officially begin their 2020 season down in Texas as they will take on Baylor in the first game of a three-game series on Friday, Feb. 14th at 6:35 p.m. Stroh will take the mound against Jimmy Winston, who will start on the bump for Baylor.