Nebraska Huskers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, 5.26

Nebraska's pitcher Shay Schanaman (right) gets a fist-bump from Nate Fisher after leaving Sunday's Big Ten Tournament championship game against Ohio State at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. Schanaman and Fisher are two of 17 Nebraska natives on the Husker roster.

Turns out Friday is going to be nice day to watch baseball for Joe Wells.

Wells, who recently retired as Grand Island Senior High's baseball coach, will be tracking four former Islanders.

Shay Schanaman, Trey Kissack and Nebraska will play at noon in Oklahoma City. Parker Upton and Creighton will play at 3 p.m. against Michigan. Cal Hehnke and Omaha will play at top-seeded UCLA at 9 p.m.

"That means I have to get ESPN3, but I'll find a way to get it," Wells said.

Wells isn't the only high school coach who will have an interest in this weekend's NCAA Tournament. All three of the state's Division I baseball programs — Nebraska, Creighton and Omaha — are in the field, and each has an influx of instate talent.

The Huskers have 17 Nebraska natives on their roster, Omaha has 12 and Creighton has nine.

There are other Nebraskans playing in the tournament. Lincoln Southwest graduate Logan Foster (Texas A&M) and Papillion-La Vista grad Grant Van Scot (Illinois) are among them.

"That's pretty impressive for a state like ours," Wells said. "I don't think probably nationally we're looked upon as an outstanding baseball state, but our kids continue to go places and contribute at the Division I level at great schools. I think it's just a tip of the cap to all the high school programs in the state."

When the Huskers, Bluejays and Mavericks take their respective fields Friday, it's very likely that all three will have Nebraska natives starting on the mound. Nebraska's Matt Waldron (Omaha Westside) and Nate Fisher (Yutan), Omaha's Payton Kinney (Norris) and Creighton's Mitch Ragan (Millard West) have been top-of-the-rotation starters this season.

Kinney and Ragan were named pitchers of the year in the Summit League and Big East, respectively.

In recent years, the state has had a knack for producing a large number of Division I volleyball players. High school baseball is having a similar success rate in Nebraska.

Creighton coach Ed Servais this week gave credit to the high school and American Legion seasons. Wells points to the hard work put in by the kids. Longtime Omaha Westside coach Bob Greco sees a boost from summer staples like the Omaha Storm Chasers and, of course, the biggest baseball event in Nebraska.

"The College World Series," said Greco, who coached current Huskers Matt and Mike Waldron. "That's where everyone wants to get and those guys play with such passion. You can watch that for 10 years before you even get to high school, watch those guys in how they play, how they hustle, how much they care. I think that makes a big difference."

The flow of baseball talent in the state doesn't appear to be slowing any time soon. Sayer Diederich (Elkhorn South), Hunter Cerveny (Wilber-Clatonia) and Quinn Mason (Gretna) are headed to Nebraska next fall, and Omaha has four instate recruits signed for 2019. Wells, who has helped coached Johnny Dorn, Kash Kalkowski and Casey Burnham, has another standout headed to Creighton in Cole Evans. He was recently named the state's Gatorade player of the year.

According to Prep Baseball Report, 94 Nebraska prep seniors are committed to play baseball in college next year at the Division I, II, NAIA and junior college levels, including 15 to Division I schools. Many others will go through junior college and try to land a Division I spot in a year or two, like Nebraska's Aaron Palensky and Omaha's Kinney. Both played at Southeast Community College-Beatrice.

"Hopefully we can keep attracting guys like the ones we have on the roster to keep it going," said Omaha coach Evan Porter, who was a standout at Millard North and later UNO. "I think there is so many good players in this state and definitely enough to help a program win a championship."

As for seeing all three of the state's Division I teams in the NCAA field, Greco calls it fabulous.

"It's cool to see them all be successful at the same time," he said. "They're all competing for many of the same kids when recruiting and all of them have the quality of kids it takes to get there. It will only make baseball better around here for all of us. It gives great motivation to a lot of these younger kids that want to go to all three places."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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