OKLAHOMA CITY — Nebraska loses eight seniors from its 2019 team, a group that went to three NCAA regionals.
But it's how the group handled not getting in last season that Darin Erstad will remember.
"I think what I’m most proud about them is, after last year — it was an awful year (24-28, 8-14 in the Big Ten). Lot of negativity. And these guys had been to regionals twice before that," the Nebraska coach said Sunday. "And for them to basically just say 'Screw this, it’s not happening, we’re taking these young guys under our wing, we’re going to do this the right way,' I’m so proud of them for doing that."
Nebraska was picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten in a preseason poll of the league's coaches, and was in danger of missing out on NCAA play before winning series against Arizona State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks and then making the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament.
"We weren’t picked to go to regionals, I think we were picked sixth in our conference, to get to the conference championship, to get to the winner’s bracket here, go up against a national seed and one out away from advancing – that’s a credit to that group, of getting those young guys prepared for that stuff," Erstad said.
Love for the squad: Now with eight seasons under his belt as Nebraska's coach, Erstad has built a large bank of memories with the teams he's led in Lincoln.
This season's squad, he said, ranks near the top.
"I’ve loved a lot of teams we had here. I’ve loved this team the most as far as the singular fight that they have," Erstad said. "We talked about it from the second we’ve been with these guys, and they backed it up, man. You look at our numbers, we had no business being here where we’re at. That’s just a credit to them, and them fighting and finding a way to win huge series, and getting in the winner’s bracket and coming so close."
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Sunday's 16-1 loss doesn't diminish that, Erstad continued.
"I guess in the big picture of things, you'll remember the good times," Erstad said. "We try to get close, we try to fight, then it gets sideways like that. They're not going to look at that score five years, 10 years from now. But it's painful now."
Pitching depth hurts NU: Nebraska's razor-thin margin for error on the mound was immediately exacerbated when Oklahoma State came from behind Saturday night.
Having spent their top two starters in Nate Fisher and Matt Waldron, and their top long reliever in Robbie Palkert, the Huskers needed a long outing from Reece Eddins Sunday just to have the chance to save the arms they would need against Oklahoma State in a potential regional final matchup.
But once Eddins was pulled in the fifth and freshman Shay Schanaman left after the seventh, things went off the rails. UConn scored 11 runs in the final two innings.
Three subsequent Nebraska relievers failed to record an out, combining to allow nine runs on eight hits before being pulled. Only Max Schreiber (one out), Ethan Frazier (two outs) and Kyle Perry (three outs) were able to dampen UConn's attack in any way.
"Shay’s in the game there and at 50 pitches and it’s still a good situation. (But) we had got him hot on Friday and pitched yesterday, and I just didn’t feel comfortable extending him," Erstad said. "Unfortunately the other guys weren’t able to keep it within striking distance."