Last year, UNO was on a little bit of a roll about midseason.
The Mavericks had won six of eight games and were coming off back-to-back wins over Creighton and Iowa heading into a weekend series against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, a team that would eventually finish 16-40 and fifth in the Summit League.
Three losses later, UNO had been knocked off stride and never regained much momentum in its difficult first year in Division I. The season-ending slide also included a three-game sweep at the hands of Oakland, another Summit League foe.
Now both IPFW (Friday) and Oakland (Sunday) come to the Ballpark at Boys Town this weekend for Summit League doubleheaders. And this time, they count in the standings.
UNO is playing its first full Summit League schedule and, though it won’t be eligible for the postseason until 2016, it will have a chance to measure itself against its peers over the course of a season.
“We’ve got to represent ourselves a lot better,” UNO coach Bob Herold said. “Coaches always say that league play is a new season, but it’s really a season within a season. We’re trying to get off to a good start against these guys, because we played poorly against the Summit League last year.”
Last season, UNO managed one win in a four-game series with league power North Dakota State to finish 1-9 against Summit League foes. The Mavs were picked to finish last in the six-team league.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in our league who doesn’t want to sweep UNO — I know I would,” Herold said. “These established teams want to show the newcomer what it’s all about. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.”
In Friday’s 1 p.m. opener against IPFW (11-11), UNO faces left-hander Jason Kalber and right-hander Chuck Weaver — each picked up a win in last year’s series, which the Mastodons swept by scores of 4-0, 6-3 and 13-7.
Weaver (2-1, 3.75 ERA) is 10th in the Summit in ERA and his 35 strikeouts (in 36 innings) rank fourth. He pitched a five-hit shutout against the Mavs last year. Kalber allowed three runs on five hits in 723 innings to win the second game.
Kalber’s brother, Markus, is the Mastodons’ leading hitter and is third in the Summit with a .350 average while leading the league in slugging (.575) and doubles (12).
UNO counters with freshman Tyler Fox (2-1, 4.50) and sophomore Zach Williamsen (0-1, 2.70). Williamsen is fifth in the league in ERA.
Besides Fox, UNO has gotten big contributions from several of its newcomers, including redshirt freshman Clayton Taylor of Elkhorn Mount Michael.
Taylor is fifth in the Summit in hitting at .339 (teammate Alex Mortensen leads the league at .387), second in on-base percentage (.479), fourth in slugging percentage (.464) and tied for fourth with seven doubles.
“He’s been an offensive gem,” Herold said of the former Class B hitting champion. “He’s always had a nice swing, and he’s put on 15 to 20 pounds since he came in last year. He’s a little stronger now, so when he hits the ball it goes further.”
UNO is hoping to further establish itself in the Summit, starting this weekend.
Herold said he’s generally pleased with how his team has played during a 6-15 start. Maybe some of the veterans haven’t contributed as much as expected, but they’re starting to come around. He’d hoped the Mavs would have been a little stronger defensively and perhaps more consistent on the mound.
“We need to try to get everything going and get off to a good start this weekend and get on a roll,” Herold said. “Getting on a roll, that’s what you always talk about in sports. We want to get on a roll instead of getting rolled.”
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