Evan Porter and his Mavericks felt they were on the verge of taking another step forward last March.
Momentum was building as UNO won the Summit League and reached its first NCAA baseball tournament in the spring of 2019. Then it started 2020 with a 10-4 record, including an 8-1 win over Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park.
But five days after that win, the season abruptly ended, canceled by COVID-19.
Now nearly 12 months later, the Mavs are ready to pick up where they left off.
“Everyone’s itching to play,” pitcher Joey Machado said. “Everyone’s excited to play someone else.”
UNO is slated to open its season Sunday at Oklahoma. The Mavs originally were going to play a four-game series at Oregon, but that series was scrapped because of contact tracing. So UNO quickly found a two-game set with the Sooners.
No matter whom the Mavs are playing, Porter wants his team to play the same approach that has brought success.
“We want to make sure we’re not getting complacent or expecting anything to be easy,” Porter said. “We just need to prepare ourselves to compete without any sense of complacency, and I think the leaders on our team are doing a good job of relaying that message to our guys.”
The Mavs return plenty of experience. All of their everyday starters are back, including catcher Brett Bonar and Keil Krumwiede, who had 10 RBIs each in 14 games last season.
The Mavs also got solid starting pitching in 2020, and starters Machado, Spencer Koelewyn, Richie Holetz and Easton Smith are back.
“I believe a realistic expectation is to not lose a single conference series,” said Breyden Eckhout, who hit .293 with 21 RBIs in 2019. “We returned about everyone and brought in some new guys who are going to contribute a lot.”
But this spring, with an ongoing pandemic, could bring about challenges even for the most experienced teams. The Mavs were given a hint this weekend of how teams will need to adapt as they lost one series but added another.
“This season will have its ups and downs like any season, but there’ll be other battles we face as a team,” Porter said. “Having older guys who are able to keep spirits up and leading by example will be helpful going into the season.”
February: 21, at Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. 22, at Oklahoma, noon. 26, at Missouri, 3 p.m. 27, at Missouri, noon and 3 p.m. 28, at Missouri, 1 p.m.
March: 5, Creighton, 3 p.m. 6, Creighton, 3 p.m. 7, Creighton, 1 p.m. 12, at Kansas, 3 p.m. 13, at Kansas, noon and 3 p.m. 14, at Kansas, 1 p.m. 19, South Dakota St. 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. 20, SDUS, 3 p.m. 21, SDSU, 1 p.m. 26, at Wichita State, 6 p.m. 27, at Wichita State, 2 p.m. 28, at Wichita State, 1 p.m.
April: 2, North Dakota St, 3 and 6 p.m. 3, NDSU, 3 p.m. 4, NDSU, 1 p.m. 9, at SDSU, noon and 3 p.m. 10, at SDSU, 1 p.m. 11, at SDSU, 1 p.m. 15, BYU 6 p.m. 16, BYU, 6 p.m. 17, BYU, 2 p.m. 23, at Oral Roberts, 3 and 6 p.m. 24, at Oral Roberts, 2 p.m. 25, at Oral Roberts, 1 p.m. 30, Western Illinois, 3 and 6 p.m.
May: 1, Western Illinois, 6 p.m. 2, Western Illinois, 1 p.m. 7, at NDSU, 3 and 6:30 p.m. 8, at NDSU, 2 p.m. 9, at NDSU, 1 p.m. 14, Oral Roberts, 3 and 6 p.m. 15, Oral Roberts, 6 p.m. 16, Oral Roberts, 1 p.m. 20, at Western Illinois, noon and 3 p.m. 21, at Western Illinois, 3 p.m. 22, at Western Illinois, 1 p.m. 26-29, Summit League tournament at Anderson Field.