Michigan at Nebraska
Where: Haymarket Park, Lincoln
Radio: Husker Sports Network
TV: Big Ten Network
Noon Friday: LHP Cade Povich (5-1, 3.12 ERA) vs. LHP Steven Hajjar (4-0, 3.06)
Noon Saturday: RHP Chance Hroch (5-1, 4.08) vs. RHP Cameron Weston (6-3, 2.64)
Noon Sunday: TBA vs. RHP Jacob Denner (4-4, 4.38)
Scouting Nebraska (29-11): Fresh off securing an outright Big Ten title and riding an eight-game win streak, the Huskers will go for their ninth weekend series win in 10 tries this spring. Coach Will Bolt said NU still has plenty to play for — jockeying for postseason seeding, yes, but also what figures to be a big crowd at Haymarket Park against an opponent fighting for its regional life. “Our motivation is that we need to show up and play our best baseball,” Bolt said. “That’s motivation enough.”
Big Red didn’t make the cut to host a regional when 20 potential sites were predetermined earlier this month, but it would be a strong candidate to host in a typical year. The team has won nine of 10 games since being swept in Lincoln by Rutgers and improved its RPI to 45 despite being limited by a league-only schedule.
Nebraska ranks high nationally in three key metrics — scoring (7.4 runs/game, 23rd), earned-run average (3.93, 39th) and fielding percentage (.981, 11th). It’s the first time the Huskers have been in the top 40 in all three categories this late in the season since 2003. Only four other teams are in the top 40 in each of those measurables this year: Arkansas (43-10), UC Irvine (36-16), UCLA (32-18) and Northeastern (32-9).
Scouting Michigan (26-15): While most of the core from Michigan’s 2019 run to the College World Series final has moved on, these Wolverines feature a similar blend of athletic hitters and talented frontline pitching. UM has lost just two series all year largely because of an offense scoring 7.4 runs per game (25th nationally, second in the Big Ten), doing it with aggressive baserunning and power (slugging percentage of .471 is 30th, second). The entire lineup is a threat to go deep — eight players have at least five homers led by Jimmy Obertop with nine. Ted Burton (.381 average), Benjamin Sems (.344) and Tito Flores (.322) each own six long balls and on-base percentages over .400.
Two of the league’s top six ERA leaders are Cameron Weston (2.64) and Steven Hajjar (3.06), leading a staff with a collective ERA of 4.06 (49th, third). Michigan pitchers will get their strikeouts (K/9 of 9.8 is 41st and third) but they issue their share of walks as well (BB/9 of 4.24 is 134th and eighth).
Ninth-year coach Erik Bakich said said UM has much on the line this weekend despite being out of the conference race. “These are the types of games you can expect to play in where the stakes are the highest, the lights are the brightest, the stage is the biggest,” Bakich said on a local radio show. “That's what you want. If you're a competitor, you love it. We're going into a great environment. … If you can't get excited about that, I don't know what to tell you. Our guys will be pumped up, I do know that.”
Dugout chatter: Nebraska and Michigan played multiple chippy games late in the 2019 season, including a series the Huskers won at Haymarket Park before they split a pair in the Big Ten tournament a week later. Big Red leads the series 13-9 since joining the league a decade ago.
Temperatures Friday and Saturday should reach the upper 60s with mostly sunny skies, with a 50% chance of rain Sunday. Neither team has had games wiped out because of weather this spring.
Bolt reflected on his former boss, Rob Childress, who parted ways with Texas A&M this week after a 16-year run coaching the Aggies. Bolt said Childress had an impact on him from the time he recruited him to Nebraska as a player in the late 1990s to spending five years under him as an assistant at A&M before taking the Husker head job. “Love him and everything he’s about,” Bolt said. “I know he’s going to land on his feet eventually. What he’s meant to my career, I can’t even put into words.”