LINCOLN — The Big Ten baseball coaches think Nebraska will finish second in the league, a preseason prediction that NU coach Darin Erstad said doesn't affect his team one bit.
Erstad isn't telling his players to ignore the fact that the conference coaches selected Indiana as the Big Ten favorite in a poll released Tuesday. He would prefer, however, that the Huskers find other sources to fuel their competitive spirit.
“I don't shy away from (outside expectations). They're there. People say it, that's great,” Erstad said. “But your motivation and focus comes from within.”
Nebraska, which finished fourth in the Big Ten last season, was also picked second by Baseball America last week. Perfect Game predicted a fourth-place finish for the Huskers.
The league coaches slotted NU ahead of Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois in the coaches preseason poll. Only the top six projections are announced by the league office.
Nebraska won't play the Spartans during the regular season, but it will host the Hoosiers and Buckeyes and face the Illini and Gophers on the road. Indiana finished second in the conference standings and was the runner-up in the Big Ten tournament last season.
The 24-game conference portion of the schedule is still a month away, though. After practice Tuesday, the Huskers were trying to stay focused on Friday's season opener at CSU Bakersfield.
Erstad won't hesitate to remind the players what should be driving them at this point.
“When you start playing because you have passion for this game, passion for your teammates, (because of) the ultimate journey to find that high level of consistency in your play — those are the things that last for long periods of time and lead to consistent play,” Erstad said.
The Big Ten also released a 33-man players to watch list, which included junior outfielder Michael Pritchard, junior pitcher Brandon Pierce and senior pitcher Dylan Vogt.
Kubat out for opening weekend
Kyle Kubat, a Big Ten all-freshman honoree last year, won't pitch for Nebraska during its first weekend of action this season.
Kubat's experiencing some arm soreness — which isn't serious, Erstad said. But the coaches don't want to push Kubat unnecessarily this early. Kubat will start throwing again next week.
“Everything's fine, but we're going to make sure it calms down,” Erstad said.
So the starting rotation this weekend will look like this: junior Brandon Pierce (Friday against CSU Bakersfield), senior Ryan Hander (Saturday's first game against Cal State Fullerton), junior Zach Hirsch (Game 2 against Fullerton) and junior college transfer Christian DeLeon (Sunday against USC).
Luback will open as starting catcher
Sophomore Tanner Lubach will start the season as Nebraska's top catcher, but that doesn't mean he'll have much margin for error.
He spent the offseason and preseason competing with junior Corey Stringer and redshirt freshman Taylor Fish. And even though Lubach emerged as the best option, he'll have to work to keep his job, because Erstad still plans to play all three guys at some point.
“Everybody's going to get their shot,” Erstad said. “We'll see who performs on the field.”
Lubach played at Lincoln Southwest before attending Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
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