Huskers Open Spring Baseball Drills Friday

The Nebraska baseball team begins formal preparations for the 2005 season this Friday, Jan. 21, as the Huskers open spring practice. With the new Tom and Nancy Osborne complex under construction, the Huskers are alternating their workouts between the Cook Pavilion and a renovated hitting facility that is located at 20th and Y streets.

On Friday, the Husker hitters will begin working out at 2 p.m. at the indoor facility before the entire team gathers for the start of practice at 3 p.m. in the Cook Pavilion. Practice is tentatively scheduled to be completed around 5:15 p.m.

Head Coach Mike Anderson, who is 81-43 in two seasons at Nebraska, sees this roster as one of the deepest in recent years, as competition for starting spots will be fierce. With the 2004 season opener 30 days away, Anderson said it is important for the Huskers build a solid foundation during the opening weeks of practice.

"We will take the first week working on fundamentals, making sure we are in good shape and getting ready for game competition," Anderson said. "There are a lot of jobs to be won in the spring. We have five or six outfielders competing for starting jobs and have good competition across the infield and at catcher. On the mound, we have a good mixture of veterans and newcomers. We have great competition for the travel roster, as we have to decide which 30 we are taking to Hawaii for our season opener and eventually trim that to 25 for the start of conference play in late March."

The Huskers, who are ranked in Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America preseason polls, bring back 15 letterwinners, including six offensive starters and six pitchers, from a squad that won 36 games in 2003.

The returnees are led by Preseason National Player-of-the-Year Alex Gordon, who was a first-team All-American in 2004 after hitting .365 with 18 homers and 75 RBIs.  Gordon is one of three all-conference infielders back in 2005, as he is joined by first baseman Curtis Ledbetter (.297-8-56) and shortstop Joe Simokaitis (.279-1-33). In the outfield, right fielder Daniel Bruce and left fielder Jesse Boyer were starters last season, while Brandon Fusilier was NU's starter in left in 2003, hitting .289 with six homers and 41 RBIs before missing all of 2004 with a shoulder injury.

On the mound, the Huskers bring back most of their weekend rotation from a year ago in second-team All-Big 12 pick Zach Kroenke (7-5, 3.03 ERA) and senior Phil Shirek (5-1, 3.07 ERA), along with senior Dustin Timm (2-3, 3.89 ERA). Both Shirek, a 44th round pick by Cleveland, and Timm, a 26th-round selection by Milwaukee, were selected in the 2004 MLB Draft and returned to NU for their senior seasons. The Huskers also welcome the return of junior Brian Duensing, who missed all of 2004 with Tommy John surgery. A Freshman All-American in 2002, Duensing was 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA in four starts in 2003 before being sidelined.

The Husker bullpen will be anchored by the duo of Jeremy Becker and Brett Jensen, while Jon Klausing was one of NU's primary mid-week starters in 2004, and will look to break into the weekend rotation this spring.

In addition to the 16 letterwinners back, the Huskers also welcomed a class of newcomers who were rated No. 16 nationally by Collegiate Baseball. The group, which includes 10 in-state products, includes Johnny Dorn, the Gatorate Player of the Year, and Ryan Wehrle, a three-time first-team all-state pick from Papillion-LaVista.

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