LINCOLN — During the middle of a mistake-filled Nebraska practice last season, when the players’ effort level wasn’t quite acceptable and their focus was a tad bit off, coach Darin Erstad shouted for his team to sprint to home plate. Then came the passionate pep talk.
His words were effective. The players responded adequately.
But Erstad would prefer not to do that anymore.
When the team’s struggling, he’d like his players to be the ones recognizing the slump and making the appropriate corrections. Those are the moments when a coach gets confirmation that his desired culture has consumed the clubhouse.
“My goal would be to sit back and not say a word,” Erstad said.
Perhaps that is a possibility with this year’s Huskers, who seem to have adopted the no-nonsense attitude of their detail-oriented coach. Eight battled-tested seniors are leading the way, trying their best to approach the game like Erstad did — proving you value every rep by attacking it with relentlessness.
“Our coaches do a good job of (establishing) that from the top,” senior Chad Christensen said.
The players always bought into that concept, but they may not have completely understood the coaching staff’s expectations last year.
Now they get it, so much so that senior Dylan Vogt said that the hard-working approach has “kind of rubbed off on us.”
And that might just end up being the key to the Nebraska baseball season, Erstad said. The Huskers, who finished fourth in the Big Ten in 2012, face a grueling non-conference schedule before matching up against a league full of evenly matched contenders.
Erstad’s been complimentary of his team’s performance in practice. He likes the “fight” the players have displayed in the preseason. Only once during the fall session did he feel that his players failed to meet his high standards.
“We’re going to be an uncomfortable team to play,” Erstad said.
Well, that’s assuming the players carry their intensity into games.
“I think that’s our biggest challenge, is bringing it every day,” Erstad said. “That will be our biggest X-factor of the success of our season.”
In 10 days, the Huskers will get their chance to prove they’ve progressed. They kick off the season with a four-game trip to California, where they’ll face CSU Bakersfield, No. 22 Cal State Fullerton and USC.
Nebraska’s goals extend beyond one weekend, though. NU wants a conference title. And an NCAA regional berth.
Thanks to Erstad and the staff, the players think they now know what it takes to get there.
“We have a really hungry group of guys that aren’t satisfied,” Christensen said.
ĽNOTES: At this point, Erstad said Nebraska’s top four candidates to earn a spot in the weekend rotation are sophomore LHP Kyle Kubat, senior RHP Ryan Hander, junior LHP Zach Hirsch and junior RHP Brandon Pierce. … Vogt will be the team’s closer, Erstad said. … Christensen, a former shortstop, will start the year in left field, and could play some in right, Erstad said. … The start time for Nebraska’s Feb. 17 game at USC has been changed. First pitch is now at 3 p.m.
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