Baseball: Horns Visit Huskers

When the Big 12 formed, anticipation of a football rivalry between Texas and Nebraska drew headlines, and the on-the-football-field action between the two has indeed been intense and meaningful, but the battles on the diamond have also become marquee match-ups, and usually for the top spot in the conference.

The league's regular season champ has alternated between Lincoln and Austin each year since Nebraska's '01 title, and the Big 12's coach of the year award has followed the same pattern (Augie Garrido in 2002, '04 and '06, Dave Van Horn in '01 and Mike Anderson in '03 and '05).

This season, the Horns (31-11, 12-3) are again at the top of the league standings. And while the Huskers (22-15, 7-8) are below .500 in Big 12 play, don't expect an easy weekend in Lincoln.

After a 3-6 start to conference play, Nebraska has taken two of three from both Oklahoma State, currently the league's second-place team, and Oklahoma (in Norman) over the last two weekends, and the Huskers have one of the better starting pitching tandems in the league in Friday starter Tony Watson (3-2, 3.36 ERA) and Saturday starter Johnny Dorn (6-1, 4.47 ERA).

Watson is a 6-4, junior lefty who is following up a super sophomore season (10-2, 2.78 ERA). Those great numbers included a quick exit vs. Texas (2-1/3 innings, nine hits, four runs) during a regular season meeting but also a brilliant 5-1/3, four-hit shutout performance to eliminate the regular season champ Horns from conference tournament contention. Watson will square off with James Russell (8-2, 3.15 ERA) in the opener.

Dorn is a 6-3, junior rightie who followed up a spectacular freshman season (12-2, 2.16 ERA) with a 9-4, 3.89 ERA campaign. Dorn earned the Nebraska win in the rubber match of the regular season series last season, going seven shutout innings, but the Horns roughed him up for five runs in 2-2/3 innings in the conference tournament game that Watson closed out. Dorn's ERA is up again this season, but he's reeled off six straight wins. His counterpart on the hill Saturday will be UT's Adrian Alaniz (9-2, 2.30 ERA).

Sunday, the Horns will send Joseph Krebs (4-0, 2.91 ERA) to the hill vs. either lefty Drew Bowman (4-1, 4.38 ERA) or rightie Charlie Shirek (2-5, 6.92 ERA).

At the plate, Nebraska's team batting average is .288 (Texas is batting .325 as a team heading into the series) and just three Huskers are batting over .300 (10 Longhorn batters are above the .300 mark). DH Jeff Tezak leads the visitors with a .368 average. 2B Jake Opitz is the team's leading RBI man with 31 and leadoff man RF D.J. Belfonte (10 steals) and CF Bryce Nimmo (11 steals) are batting below .300 but are both threats on the basepaths when they get on.

For the Horns, Kyle Russell has the Texas single season home run record all to himself after his solo shot vs. Rice on Tuesday, but he'll look for No. 22 and beyond vs. the Huskers. Russell (52) and Bradley Suttle (50) continue to pace the Horns in RBI, while Suttle leads the team with his .405 average.

First pitch of the series opener in Lincoln is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by CSTV. Saturday's contest gets underway at 3 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Net. The series finale on Sunday starts at noon and will be televised by ESPNU.

This weekend's action in the Big 12 also features second-place Oklahoma State (29-9, 8-4) at fourth-place Texas A&M (31-8, 8-6) and third-place Missouri (26-11, 7-5) at Baylor (21-17, 6-9).

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