You can sum up the KSU series as this. It's what NU needed. Forget who they were playing, forget where they were playing, they were wins and three wins in a row to boot. After the little slide NU had just taken, it couldn't have come at a better time.
The loss of Duensing hurt NU, there's no question about that. Replacing him is going to be a full-time job and honestly, they might not ever find their guy, NU going back to last year, trying hard to fill that third starting spot.
Quinton Robertson has stepped up nicely, his best performance coming this last Saturday against KSU as he pitched a full 7 innings, striking out 7 and allowing only one earned run. NU needed that.
John Grose highlighted the series with his bat, going perfect the first two days, 4-4 each day, hitting a home run on Saturday, while knocking in a total of 5 RBI's, 4 on Saturday, matching a career high. Over the first two games of the series, Grose raised his average over .100 pts., now sitting above .400 on the year.
Drew Anderson might not have been having the best season thus far, but he picked a good team to shine as his 3-run shot broke a 7-7 tie with KSU this last Sunday, to help NU to the 11-9 win over the Wildcats. Drew was only 1-4 on the day, but nobody will discount how important that "one" was.
The "Go-To" Guy
Can anyone deny how much Aaron Marsden has meant to NU already this season? In this last series, Marsden went the distance, allowing 3 earned runs, striking out one short of double-digits. Marsden has an ERA of 2.08, with an impressive strikeout to walk ratio of over 4-1. With Duensing down, Marsden isn't just the main man, he's going to be the anchor for a staff that still has to find it's identity..........again.
Size doesn't matter
Anyone with the nickname "Bubbs", well, to look at Mr. Merrill, you wouldn't believe he could do some of the things he does. But, he does. A good fielder, savvy and amazingly agile from left to right, in this series with the Wildcats, Merrill proved he's got a little Meat to go with the potatoes as he belted a 2-run homer against KSU in their first game of the series. And though Bubbs isn't as consistent at the plate as he wants to be right now, on the field, when it comes to guys that have played at least 17 games, he's the ONLY one that still has a perfect fielding percentage.
Oh, what a relief it is
As NU still looks to solidify it's starting rotation, the depth certainly seems to be paying off in late-inning relief. In this series, not counting of course the complete game by Marsden, the non-starters combined for 10 innings, allowing 4 earned runs, striking out 9 along the way. Highlighting the relief efforts were Burch who went 1 and a 1-3, allowing nothing but goose eggs across the board while striking out 4. Phil Shirek went 2 innings, likewise putting up doughnuts all the way, striking out 3 and Tim Schoeninger who's NU's usual relief guy, he goes an inordinate 4 and 2/3 innings, giving up only one earned run and getting his first win of the year.
All in all, it was a good weekend stand for NU. Against a team that everyone expected them to beat, they did just that and at times, very convincingly. One thing that continues to hamper NU though is that dreaded stat, LOB as NU stranded 21 over the three games. That averages out to be 7 a game, but I think that even Mike Anderson will tell you, that's just too darn many.
The biggest issue for NU right now though has to be that third guy on the mound. Robertson seems to be settling down some and the middle-relief is looking better as the season goes along. But, NU has to find that third starter as I am sure they don't want to be looking for him the rest of the year and that is possible with Duensing's status unknown at this time.
This week, the Huskers can keep this streak going as they face Cal Poly (14-11-1) in a two game series, Tuesday and Wednesday. Like KSU this is a team that NU is expected to beat, especially since it's at home where NU is very tough to beat, undefeated thus far this year. Both games go off at 4:05 p.m. central time and pitchers have yet to be determined.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619