After making it to the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season, expectations around the Nebraska baseball program are high.
Head coach Darin Erstad led the Huskers to regular season conference championship, but the team was eliminated without winning a game at the regional stage of the tournament, falling 5-1 to Yale and 7-4 to Holy Cross.
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Huskers had three players selected in the 2017 MLB draft, with the Astros selecting Jake Meyers in the 13th round, the Seattle Mariners selecting Luis Alvarado two picks later and the Tampa Bay Rays selecting Scott Schreiber in the 26th round.
Of the three, only Meyers decided to jump up to the professional ranks, with Alvarado and Schreiber both opting to return for their senior seasons.
Alvarado in particular garnered national attention after he was named a second-team Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball. He was integral to the team’s success last season, as he cameoed as both a relief pitcher and outfielder.
Alvarado starred on the mound, compiling a stellar 1.72 ERA and team-high 10 saves in 15.2 innings of work. He also started 57 games in the outfield, spending the majority of his playing time in left field. He also contributed offensively, hitting .283, driving in 25 runs and two home runs.
With a talented cast returning for the 2018 season, the Huskers received some national attention. Collegiate Baseball’s December poll placed the Huskers at 39th, one spot above Big Ten Conference foe, Michigan.
After a season that saw three Big Ten teams make the NCAA tournament, the conference is wide-open.
The three teams that made the postseason return as favorites, with Indiana holding an advantage over the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska. The Hoosiers were featured in a number of top-25 polls, with Baseball America ranking the team at No. 20.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are another team to watch in the conference as they look to improve from a third-place finish in 2017.
With the conference slate looking like a difficult contest, the Huskers should be keen to begin non-conference play and gear up for an exciting season. Nebraska has a manageable but challenging non-conference schedule, starting with UC Riverside, which finished last in the Big West last season, before taking on the Washington State Cougars, which went 24-29 and finished ninth in the Pac-12.
After that, the Huskers continue their West Coast trip with games against Utah and Oregon State.
The Utes went 27-24 last season finishing fifth in the conference. But the real test is when Nebraska takes on the Oregon State Beavers on Feb. 22 and Feb. 24.
Oregon State had an incredible 56-6 season in 2017 and made it all the way to the College World Series. The team looks just as dangerous this year, and is a consensus top-five team in the country. The West Coast trip will be an early test for Erstad’s team to see if they can hang with the best in the nation.
Although the Huskers face tough competition in their conference this season, they are looking for a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.