s-BaseballSeasonPreview

Cam Chick (29) prepares for his turn at bat at the baseball exhibition against Creighton at Haymarket Park on Sept. 17, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska baseball had one the most successful seasons in program history in 2021, winning the Big Ten Championship and advancing to the program’s first NCAA Regional final since 2007. 

The success has brought high expectations on the Husker baseball team, opening the year ranked No. 20 in the country. Nebraska is also Big Ten coaches’ pick to repeat as conference champions. 

Making the quest for back-to-back conference championships harder is the departure of three key players to the MLB Draft: infielder/pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach and pitchers Cam Wynne and Cade Povich.

Down two starting pitchers with Povich leaving and Chance Hroch’s graduation, the Huskers will look toward senior captains Kyle Perry and Shay Schanaman to lead the starting rotation. 

Perry missed most of the 2021 season with injury but came back towards the end of the season and had success in his four starts. The left-hander won two games and had 15 strikeouts with a 3.48 ERA, the lowest of his Husker career. 

Schanaman was one of the most prominent Husker pitchers in 2021, making 12 starts and finishing third on the team in innings pitched. He went 5-2 as the starter and leads all returning Huskers with 74 strikeouts. His 12 hit batters led the team, showing an area for improvement in 2022. 

Junior pitcher Braxton Bragg is scheduled to get his first career start on Sunday, the final game of the Huskers’ season-opening series against Sam Houston State. Bragg is entering the starting lineup after pitching in relief last season. He struggled in the role, posting a team-high 8.04 ERA, but head coach Will Bolt loves the progress he made in the offseason, boosting him to the starting rotation.

The other new addition to the starting rotation is Grand Canyon transfer senior pitcher Dawson McCarville. The graduate transfer had success in the second half of his season, posting a 1.74 ERA during his final 11 appearances and earning an honorable mention All-WAC selection. 

Leading the bullpen is senior Jake Bunz, who had an impressive 2.20 ERA in 2021 with 42 strikeouts. Bunz appeared in a team-high 20 games last season, with 17 of them coming in the bullpen role, setting him up for another successful year of bullpen leadership. 

Senior Koty Frank also brings great bullpen experience, having 27.1 innings pitched last season and holding opponents to a .202 batting average. Junior Caleb Feekin and sophomore Emmett Olson played their role well in the bullpen last season, with both left-handers making at least 10 appearances. Texas A&M transfer junior Mason Ornelas could find himself in a prominent bullpen role as well, having 17 bullpen appearances as an Aggie. 

The closer role will be handled by junior Colby Gomes, who missed all of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury. 

In the infield, sophomore third baseman Max Anderson will lead one of the Huskers’ most experienced units. Anderson was a Freshman All-American in 2021 and was one of Nebraska’s strongest players offensively. He finished with the second-highest batting average on the team and ended the year with a .500 slugging percentage. 

Nebraska’s starting second baseman in 2021, sophomore Brice Matthews, is shifting to shortstop to fill the role held by Schwellenbach. Matthews excelled as a freshman infielder, making the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. His speed helped him star on the field, hitting eight doubles and stealing seven bases. 

Matthews’ role as second baseman will be filled by freshman Core Jackson. In high school, Jackson was the No. 3 ranked prospect in the Canadian province of Ontario and was coached by Adam Stern, a former teammate of coach Bolt’s at Nebraska.

The Huskers’ main first baseman in 2021, Luke Roskam, graduated, with sophomore Jack Steil expected to fill his place in 2022. Steil has plenty of experience at the first base position, starting 19 games. He showed his offensive potential in 2021, having three multi-RBI games. 

Behind the plate, senior catcher Griffin Everitt will reprise his role as Nebraska’s primary catcher from 2021. 

The outfield will have three new starters for the Huskers after the departures of Joe Acker, Jaxon Hallmark and Mojo Hagge, who were some of Nebraska’s most dominant players a year ago. 

A familiar face will fill Hagge’s role in left field. Senior captain Cam Chick started 42 games at various positions in 2021 and will now finally have a consistent spot in the field to call home. Of the Huskers returning from last year, Chick leads in home runs and RBIs, making him one of Nebraska’s greatest weapons at the plate.

In center field, junior outfielder Luke Sartori will step into Hallmark’s spot. Sartori saw limited action in the outfield in 2021, appearing in just five games. He made his only at-bat of the season count, driving in a run on a single against Northwestern. Sartori is expected to be one of Nebraska’s primary base-stealers, being one of the fastest players on the team. 

Junior outfielder Leighton Banjoff will take the final outfield spot in right field. Banjoff started 13 games in the abbreviated 2020 season and made 15 starts in 2021 before a finger injury cut his season short. Now with a full season in front of him, Banjoff has the chance to be an impact player in the Husker offense.

Banjoff led the Huskers in batting average and slugging percentage in 2020 and had four multi-hit games in his shortened 2021 season. 

The designated hitter spot will likely rotate between outfielders with experience, like Chick and Banjoff, giving young players a chance to play on the field. Freshmen Kyler Randazzo and Luke Jessen could see early action this way in 2022. 

With talent deep at key positions and talented newcomers getting a chance to prove themselves, Nebraska has the pieces in place for a successful defense of its Big Ten crown. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com