No, it's not a beer commercial, but one can hardly dispute just how appropriate this particular manufacturer's slogan, "It just doesn't get any better than this" is for one, Aaron Marsden. Once again and for the second time in a row, he rang them up and mowed them down in yet another complete-game victory and he even tied his career high in strikeouts with ten. If you want to find a player that has found his groove, this kid is it and with Brian Duensing out, NU needed that concrete guy to be the sure-winner and Marsden is proving his worth and his mettle. His ERA, anemic, his strikeout to walk ratio, absurd and he's statistically battling with the legend, Komine in complete and total dominance. You would have to think that Aaron can only get better. Now, you just have to wonder how.
Hopper, hopping leaders
If you are talking statistics from a series, Matt Hopper didn't have his best outing, going 3-13 against OU. If you take a look at the big picture though, Hopper succeeded overall. In the course of three games, Matt Hopper cemented himself in history, first beating the All-Time career hit mark for NU and the very next game, beat out the same mark, but this time for conference career, that held by Rick Park. Hopper still has a long ways to go, so expect both records to be near monumental proportions by then. Great job Matt!
Youth gone Wild
There was a definite theme at times during this series, mostly being played by the youth-movement for NU, led by 3rd basemen, Alex Gordon. Gordon has been pretty good most of the year, but in this series, he stepped it up considerably, going 5-12 with at least one RBI in each of the three games, knocking in two ribbies in the last game of the series on three hits for the game.
Zach Kroenke looked pretty good, going 5 and 2/3rd innings, allowing only 2 earned runs. Zach could quickly be earning a reputation as a fighter, because he does that and though he might not be the raw-talent of a Marsden, his tenacity can get him out of jams as it has at times this year.
Tim Schoeninger added his 4th save, already bettering the highest individual save mark set last year, and did it impressively, facing four batters and fanning three for the one-inning opportunity. Anderson and Childress are both starting to look very prophetic in their pre-season praise of Schoeninger.
Getting it done
As a team, the pitching and hitting wasn't stellar, illustrated well by the team .229 batting average over the series. The pitching though was better though, sporting a 3.0 ERA over the three games. If you want to know where the difference though was in this series, look at what OU did in direct comparison. The Sooners for the series managed to bat a paltry .186 and the ERA for the trifecta was 4.33, so that speaks volumes for the total team effort NU put in down in Norman.
Oh, and if you are wondering what NU averaged in that dreaded "LOB" stat, well, NU is about as consistent there as they have been when winning, putting up another 7+ average per game in regards to stranding batters.
I got your Salami right here
OU's Buddy Blair hadn't allowed a homer all season, but he gave up two, to the Huskers, one a solo shot by the RBI king, Brandon Fusilier and a first-inning Grand Slam by Curtis Ledbetter. By the way, speaking of homers, Nebraska's all-time single season dinger record is held by Dan Johnson. During that year, Dan hit a home-run approximately every 9 at-bats. Even during his home-run hitting frenzy last season, Jed Morris could "only" manage a round-tripper every 11+ times at bat. Well, both Curtis Ledbetter and Matt Hopper are sitting at just over 9+ at-bats per pitch knocked out of the park. If that stayed consistent to the end of the year, Nebraska could make a serious attempt at the 1985 record for most team home runs in a season that stands at a whopping 95.
"My Glove doesn't work!!!"
In any series or a season for that matter, errors are looked upon as anathema to good baseball. Nobody likes them, coaches get this look of combination, angst, frustration and constipation on their faces when they happen, but hey, it's part of the game.
Of all the Huskers with at least 20 games, Bubbs still remains perfect in the field, but you expect some mistakes to happen, but hope to win the war in the end. Nebraska did that as they averaged less than one per game, but that one still sticks out, especially to the one that made the error.
If you think that's bad though, look at what OU did for the series. It wasn't the keystone cops, but with 6 errors in one game and 4 in another, outside of simply not showing up for the games, you can't do much more to hurt your chances of winning a game. NU earned these wins, no doubt about that, but for OU, they might want to use those lacrosse sticks in the field from now on. Or, maybe a fishing net.
If not for the comedy of errors by Oklahoma, this would have been a much closer series than previously thought. Let's face it, Marsden's performance aside, OU did more to lose than they did to win.
What NU got, especially out of their last two games was a sturdy, heady and determined effort up and down. On the bag and at the plate, the overall effort won't blow you away, but they capitalized on OU mistakes and OU made plenty of them.
What this series does though is bring back some road confidence as they went south and won three games in a row and in this conference, that's just damn tough to do. They also boosted their new winning-streak back to a comfy 8 games, sporting a 7-2 record in the conference, 19-6 overall.
The pitching , well, let's face it, this is going to be an issue until a solid rotation can be determined. Quinton Robertson wasn't horrible by any means, but he did get clipped for 6 earned runs this weekend. He'll settle down as he gets more time out there, but consistency is the key, especially down the stretch.
NU has been somewhat notorious for being good in streaks and at certain things. If pitching is up, hitting is down. If hitting is up, pitching is down and somewhere in there, defense stays fairly consistent. For me, the hitting does seem to be finding it's niche and up and down the roster, guys seem to be stepping up at opportunistic times. Pitching will be the focus for most of the scrutiny, I think that's pretty safe to say.
A mid-week contest approaches for NU as they host Western Illinois Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday's game is scheduled to go off at 6:35 p.m. while the Hump-day finale is scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m.
The "Leathernecks" are 10-14 on the season and none of those 24 games have been played at home. While NU faces the yearly battle with bad weather forcing an elongated stint in the south before playing at home, Western Illinois has yet to see their home-field, Nebraska to be their last away-games before trying to make their first home stand of the year.
It's a series that NU is expected to breeze through, so what NU needs to do here is simply be NU, be consistent and not make any major mental errors and they should be just fine.
After that, it's down to Lawrence to face the much-improved Jayhawks, but hey, that's almost a full week away.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619