LINCOLN — The weather is good. Suitcases are put away. A parade of games is coming.
No time like the present for the Nebraska baseball team to get rolling.
Despite losing seven of nine contests on the road to start the season, the Huskers can make up ground quickly as they open the home portion of their schedule Friday with a four-game set against Ivy League school Columbia. While the weekend action against a team that went 19-23 last year won’t boost their RPI, it could provide plenty of positive reinforcement after an uneven February.
“It’s been tough for us to kind of get all three phases of the game together,” NU reliever Paul Tillotson said. “Moving forward and coming back home, it’s going to be a big statement for us to get all three of those together for everybody here. So I think that’s what we’re looking forward to the most.”
The notion that Nebraska (2-7) is in for a tough spring because of its slow start is premature. In its eight years in the Big Ten, the team made its Haymarket Park debut three times with a losing record and made the NCAA tournament twice — it was 3-6 in both 2016 and 2017 and still qualified.
In 2013, when Will Bolt was in Lincoln as an assistant, the squad began 0-7 away from home and finished 29-30, narrowly missing an at-large bid only because NCAA rules didn’t allow schools with sub-.500 records to advance.
Bolt, now the head coach, said just a couple of plays could have swung three more wins toward Nebraska in a challenging February that included series at recent regional qualifiers Baylor and Arizona State.
They can build on last Sunday, when they rallied from down five runs to the 12th-ranked Sun Devils for an 18-10 triumph.
“I want to start becoming the team we need to become right now,” Bolt said. “If you just show up and have kind of the similar mindset every day, then you’re going to have a shot to stack some wins together.”
Poor weather last season forced a canceled series, two scuttled midweek games and the relocation of the Baylor series to push Nebraska’s home opener to March 19, its latest in 41 years. There have been no such complications this week other than gale-force winds Thursday that had Bolt anxious to put the Huskers through pop-up communication drills.
The schedule also lines up for NU to gain momentum in 24 games at its own 19-year-old ballpark. NU hosts just one team with a winning record — Ohio State in May — outside of single April games against in-state schools Creighton and UNO. Contrast that with the travel slate, which still includes eight meetings with returning postseason qualifiers.
“Granted, we had a slow start,” freshman infielder Leighton Banjoff said. “But nothing changes. The mindset’s all the same. We gotta go out there and compete and just play the best baseball that we can, day in and day out.”
The built-in advantages of home won’t hurt, either. Bolt said that while the Huskers probably played in front of more of their own fans on the road than their opponents did, the local crowds make even more of a difference. After three weeks of changing time zones and hotel beds, their own third-base dugout looks pretty good.
But the first-year coach added that a familiar venue is just one factor in the weekend. Can NU throw strikes on the mound and keep from hurting itself defensively? If so, the weather won’t be the only thing heating up soon.
“We can’t overlook anybody,” Bolt said. “We can’t come to the park thinking we’re going to be owed a win. You gotta show up and earn it.”