LINCOLN — Spencer Schwellenbach doesn’t have much college experience from which to draw. But he remembers last fall.
The true freshman infielder Wednesday became the latest of many within the Nebraska baseball program to recall just how solid the fielding was during offseason workouts and scrimmages. On those autumn days inside a quiet Haymarket Park, the ball almost never got away.
“Coaches told me it was the best defense they’ve ever seen,” Schwellenbach said. “We didn’t make any errors. The defense was pretty sound; not a lot of throwing errors. As we go along with the season, it will be a lot better.”
The Huskers have 14 errors through eight games this season, good for a .949 fielding percentage that ranks 249th out of 292 Division I teams nationally. They never finished worse than 37th under eighth-year coach Darin Erstad until ending 149th a season ago.
Why the dip? It doesn’t help that the only grounders and popups Nebraska has taken all season have been immediately before games in California and Arizona the last two weeks. While every diamond in Lincoln is buried under snow, infielders are making throws inside the Hawks Center knowing the distance to first base is only an approximation of the real dimensions. Even in warmer climates, poor weather has limited players to just one full pregame practice in eight contests.
And yet Nebraska’s trek through a treacherous nonconference schedule is only ramping up following a four-game sweep at the hands of defending national champion Oregon State. Awaiting the Huskers now is the loaded Frisco Classic, featuring a pair of ranked 2018 College World Series qualifiers and a 39-win club inside the home ballpark of the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate.
The tournament’s social-media hashtag — #BestOutsideOfOmaha — is well deserved for No. 3 Texas Tech (6-1), Sam Houston State (5-2) and No. 12 Mississippi State (8-1). Nebraska (3-5), meanwhile, is still figuring out where it fits in.
“If we’re ever going to get over the hump and get to that next level, we have got to be able to go toe-to-toe with these teams, be able to play your game regardless of what the quality of your opponent is,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “We talk about that all the time. But until you actually go out there and do it …”
The coach trailed off. The schedule and notion of learning through adversity is great in theory. But what about the danger of shaken confidence? Erstad and multiple players said Wednesday that they don’t sense that. This weekend is still an opportunity much like two years ago, when the Huskers left Frisco with an upset of No. 14 Arizona that began momentum toward a Big Ten title.
As hard as Erstad said he was on the players following the Oregon State series — he observed a “backing down” from many through poor communication on the field and a quiet dugout — he’s extending some grace, too. Until the Huskers hit a rhythm in their routine, it’s hard to know exactly who they are and what they have.
But if last fall was any indication, they know warmer days are ahead.
“You can’t really make an excuse because that’s just not who Nebraska is,” Schwellenbach said. “Just having confidence in ourselves and knowing that we’ll be better throughout the season helps us a lot.”
Nebraska at Frisco Classic
7 p.m. Friday vs. Texas Tech: RH Matt Waldron (1-0, 3.38 ERA) vs. LH Erikson Lanning (0-0, 2.70)
Noon Saturday vs. Sam Houston State: LH Nate Fisher (1-1, 6.75) vs. TBA
11 a.m. Sunday vs. Mississippi State: TBA vs. TBA
Radio: KNCY 1600 AM, 105.5 FM
Scouting Nebraska (3-5): The Huskers went from a top-10 scoring offense to 64th nationally (7.0 runs/game) following a four-game sweep by Oregon State. But more concerning is a fielding percentage (.949) that ranks 249th out of 292 Division I teams. The team earned-run average (6.45) ranks 221st, with a collective WHIP (1.60, 181st) that supports the notion that Nebraska pitchers haven’t been all that unlucky. … Matt Waldron, a weekend starter last year, will make his first start of the season Friday. … The Huskers are 1-14 against top-15 teams since upsetting then-No. 1 Oregon State in 2014. The lone win in that span was a 1-0 victory over No. 14 Arizona at the inaugural Frisco Classic two years ago. … Four NU lineup regulars have separated themselves in terms of batting average: outfielders Aaron Palensky (.333), Jaxon Hallmark (.310) and Mojo Hagge (.308) along with infielder Angelo Altavilla (.303).
Scouting Texas Tech (6-1): The third-ranked Red Raiders are averaging more than 10 runs per game during a six-game winning streak and have a top-20 scoring offense overall. Big 12 preseason player of the year Josh Jung is coming off a 12-homer season in which he hit .392 and drove in 80 runs during Tech’s trip to the College World Series. Outfielder Dylan Neuse (.407, two homers, 13 RBIs) is one of seven regulars hitting better than .300. … Perhaps Tech’s biggest weakness is a pitching staff whose collective ERA (4.43, 130th) has been just average so far. Erikson Lanning has six strikeouts in 6 2⁄3 innings this year.
Scouting Sam Houston State (5-2): The Bearkats were on their way to their best win of the season Wednesday with a 10-3 lead on No. 18 TCU before foggy conditions wiped out the contest in the bottom of the second inning. They lost to No. 22 Texas 10-3 in their only other ranked challenge this spring. … Catcher Gavin Johnson (.409), outfielder Clayton Harp (.344, three homers) and utilityman Colton Cowser (.357) have provided the bulk of the offense thus far. … Starting pitcher Hayden Wesneski sports a 2.70 ERA and 21 strikeouts through 13 1⁄3 innings. No other pitcher who has started a game this year has an ERA under 4.50.
Scouting Mississippi State (8-1): The 12th-ranked Bulldogs made a surprise run to the College World Series last year but have yet to face a top-shelf foe in 2019 following games against Youngstown State, UAB, Southern Miss, Jackson State and Southeastern Louisiana. … Coach Chris Lemonis is in his first year with the program after spending the last four seasons leading Indiana (he was 2-6-1 against Nebraska). … Pick a major category and Mississippi State is among the early leaders: ERA (1.54, sixth nationally), fielding percentage (.985, 20th), scoring (8.9, 22nd). The team’s 12 homers rank 12th, with third baseman Justin Foscue’s four leading the way. Shortstop Jordan Westburg (.382) is the top hitter by average.