LINCOLN — Nebraska and Creighton, both preparing to make a season-extending surge, will take a calculated approach into the final installment of this year’s in-state rivalry.
The teams’ midweek meetings have always been managed with cautious intensity, both squads fighting for local pride while keeping one eye on the weekend’s more important matters.
But at this point — the last week of the regular season — the stakes are at their highest for the state’s top two college baseball programs. As soon as Tuesday’s game ends, really.
There’s one last chance for positioning within the conference ranks, with league tournaments set for the middle of next week. That’s the focus for NU coach Darin Erstad, whose club sits in a three-way tie for second in the Big Ten.
“With a short turnaround, playing Thursday in conference, we have to make sure we keep everybody fresh and ready to go,” Erstad said.
All pitchers will have a strict role, according to Erstad. Guys who are dealing won’t get extended pitch counts. Relievers won’t warm up multiple times in the bullpen, either.
“We’ll script it out a little bit,” Erstad said.
Creighton’s Ed Servais appears to be carrying a similar strategy into Tuesday’s game.
“We’re going to be smart about our pitching,” said the 10-year CU head coach. “We want to keep everyone available for the weekend, and we’re starting to look ahead to the conference tournament. You don’t want to burn somebody or overextend somebody.”
The Jays start a series Thursday against Missouri State, which is tied with CU for third in the Missouri Valley with three games left.
Creighton won the conference tournament as an eight seed last year, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Jays, with an RPI at 74, presumably need a similar run next week to stay alive.
And freshman starter Matt Warren will be looking to help CU build some momentum with a solid outing Tuesday. The right-hander out of Omaha Skutt said he has been looking forward to this moment.
“I’ve always dreamed of getting the chance to pitch against (Nebraska),” he said. “I’m just thankful to get this opportunity (Tuesday) night and I’m looking to make the most of it.”
Senior Tyler Niederklein will start for Nebraska. He won’t pitch long. Neither will his teammates.
Nebraska’s starters did account for 19 innings of work during three games last weekend, so that does make more relievers available Tuesday. But NU needs all the arms it can get for a final league series against Michigan.
The Huskers would need some help, but they could still win an outright Big Ten regular-season title if they sweep the Wolverines this week. At worst, NU’s hoping for a two seed, which comes with a first-round bye in the league tournament.
“I’m glad we have a game because we have some guys that need to throw,” Erstad said. “But we have to really map it out.”
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