"I'm a bad man!!!!"
Ala Ali, we can bow down, chanting, "we're not worthy, we're not worthy!" as Curtis Ledbetter hit his second grand slam in three games. His second Salami came in game one against Western Illinois as he drove in a mighty impressive 5 RBIs. If not for Matt Hopper's 4 RBI effort, Curt would have jumped into second on the team RBI list behind Brandon Fusilier after the first game, but it was enough to keep him securely in 3rd.
Speaking of RBIs though, Nebraska got plenty in the first game as NU routed the Leathernecks, 16-2 and believe it or not, NU's reigning RBI king, Brandon Fusilier wasn't even one of them. Aside from "Led"'s 5 and Hopper's 4, Jake Mullinax and Drew Anderson added 2 a piece, while Jeff Leise, Joe Simokaitis and Josh Birmingham all added one each to the cause.
In game two, the RBIs weren't flying around as NU edged Western Illinois 5-3, but "Fuse" got back on track adding one, Hopper knocked in yet a couple more and Bubbs Merrill and Alex Gordon each added one, Gordon getting his off of his first home run of the year.
Gettin off the snide
Justin Pekarek hasn't lived a charmed life when it comes to his career at NU. Injured for almost all of it, his time on the mound has been sparse at best. Finally back, rusty but ready, Pekarek got his first victory of the season in his only game started of the year thus far. Thru 5 innings, Justin allowed 6 hits and 3 earned runs while striking out 3 and walking 2. Yeah, it wasn't pretty, but when you haven't started a game in over 2 years, let's see how good of a job you do. Chalk this up as a victory, figuratively and literally for one Justin Pekarek.
Phil Shirek also added a nice effort in his starting effort during game one, going 5, allowing no earned runs and striking out 6. That's his second win of the year, still perfect for the season and his ERA is now down to an impressive 2.14.
As usual, the relief pitching was pretty solid, except for a slight hiccup by John Brownell, who allowed 2 earned runs on 4 hits in two total innings. Even with that though, the relief staff managed to throw 8 full innings, allowed only those two earned runs, striking out 9 and walking none. Coach Anderson once again liberally substituted on the mound, 6 total pitchers seeing time in relief.
For the series, Nebraska's ERA was 2.5 while Western Illinois' ERA was a hefty 7.5.
Holy Hits BatMan!!!
In game one, Nebraska went off with 21 hits. In fact, the only NU player in the first game not to get a hit was center fielder, Daniel Bruce as he came in for Jeff Leise who went 3-4 during the game. The hitting was so unconscious, Nebraska managed a batting average on the day of exactly .500. Folks, that's not good, that's insane.
Though they didn't equal that ridiculous performance in game two, Nebraska still ended up hitting .402 for the two-game tilt. That would be considered a stark and impressive contrast to Western Illinois' .235 average on the series. In fact, the Leathernecks were exactly 8-34 each day they faced NU.
And the hits just keep on coming
Yeah, I know it's an over-used cliche', but hey, that's why it's a cliche'. Either way you look at it though, Matt Hopper's sick hitting stats deserve something close to that. Matt not only set the All-Time career mark for the team this season and he not only set the same record for the conference, but let's just take a look at how good Matt is compared to the most prolific in history.
For the season, Matt is averaging 1.58 hits per game. Tim Barber, the single-season record holder for most hits (142) was hitting at a pace of 1.67. You can see that, that is definitely a reasonable goal for Hopper if he becomes only slightly better than he has been all year. So, what about career? Well, the current all-time record is 418, which Matt sits 131 behind, going into this last year of ball. At that rate, Matt would have to average a whopping 2 hits per game for another 60 games to manage that particular feat. Don't let that seem like he's doing bad, because if Matt managed his current rate of 1.58 hits per game over a projected 60 future games, that would put him in the top 4 All-Time in Division 1-A.
Enough with the LOB!!!
Oh, how I wish we could end the recap of LOB, but like a referee, people only notice it when it's bad and NU didn't help their 7 per game average as they did manage to strand exactly that in game 2 of the series, but in game one where so many actually got to base, Nebraska managed to leave a few more there as well, totaling 11 for the contest. That averages out to 9 a game. In game 1, yeah, no biggie because when you belt out 21 hits, you are probably going to win the game regardless, but it's still an on-going battle the Huskers seem to be losing or at the very least, breaking barely even.
It was a series they were supposed to win, but probably not like either game they played. Granted, Western Illinois isn't that great, but they aren't 16-2 bad and no, they are a decent team, but probably not 3-5 good either. I know, it's way over generalized with little to no real analysis of them, their schedule, their rotations, how their pitches were working that day and what NU did that affected them and what was just them having an off-day, but come on, that's a lot of damn time. Let's just put it simply, the Leathernecks shouldn't have beaten the Huskers in either contest and leave it at that.
Next, NU travels down to Kansas and it's a different JayHawk team that NU is probably used to seeing. On the season, Kansas is a very nice 23-11, while at home, they just have 2 losses in 13 games. As a team, they are hitting over .300, the JayHawks sporting two guys with better than .400 averages at the plate. In fact, out of the players with over 20 games played, only two KU guys are not batting at least .300 on the year. Probably the most impressive series for the Jayhawks was when they swept the perennial baseball powerhouse, LSU. So, you can see that this series is no walk in the park for the Huskers.
Kansas' probable starter for the first game will be Kevin Wheeler. Wheeler has started 8 games, completed 2 of them, thrown a shutout in one of them and struck out a team-leading 49 batters. Oddly enough, Kevin was only a relief pitcher last year, as he is one of KU's best hitters and fielders as well. His mound prowess though is what NU will have to worry about the most, but if Marsden is simply, Marsden, NU should be fine. It's the next two games the Huskers have to worry about the most as statistically, KU is simply, a hitting machine.
The first game goes off at 7 p.m. central time down in Lawrence.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619