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With the postseason math clear, Husker baseball trying to focus on a simple equation: just win

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Iowa vs. Nebraska, 5.1

Nebraska players celebrate Brice Matthews' (14) home run during Game 1 of the doubleheader against Iowa on May 1 at Haymarket Park.

The Nebraska baseball team can still finish fifth in the Big Ten.

That fact is as wild as the defending league champions, currently tied for ninth in the conference, needing a likely sweep this weekend just to qualify for next week's conference tournament in Omaha.

But there is a chance. Just like there is a chance of NU finishing eighth and sneaking into the postseason. And through everything this disappointing year has wrought on NU, a chance is all the Huskers are asking for.

The final series of the regular season, against Michigan State, begins at 6:35 p.m. Thursday.

"Just come out and lay it all on the line. That’s all that is ever going to be asked is to do just that," NU coach Will Bolt said after Tuesday's win over Oral Roberts. "We're going to have to have some guys step up."

That's been a familiar refrain for Nebraska this season. And for myriad reasons, those performances haven't materialized.

The path to the postseason, though, is still there despite just one conference series victory this season.

The most direct path for Nebraska (21-29, 8-13 Big Ten) to keep playing is to sweep the Spartans (23-28, 7-14) and have league-leading Maryland beat Purdue at least twice.

The Boilermakers, 9-10 in conference games, hold a two-game lead over Nebraska but saw two league games washed out because of weather earlier this season. A Nebraska sweep and Purdue losing two of three would put NU ahead of the Boilermakers by a few percentage points for the final spot.

Nebraska owns a tiebreaker (better record against common conference opponents) with Northwestern, the team it is tied with, should things come down to that.

As for that fifth-place finish? Nebraska would have to sweep Michigan State, then see Penn State, Michigan and Indiana all get swept in their series against Illinois, Rutgers, and Iowa, respectively. As it happens, the latter three teams are all still alive for the conference title.

It's a lot of math for a program that has stacked the numbers against itself all year. Making the equation easier will come down to something pretty simple: just win.

"We’ve talked about it, just the game plan. Come out and play fast, and focus on ourselves. That’s all we’ve got to do if we handle our business," NU infielder Max Anderson said. "Just play fast and not worry about Michigan State or really, anybody else. Things will get handled, and we’re going to play our best baseball."

It's certainly not like last season when Nebraska hosted Michigan on the final weekend with the Big Ten title already secured and three days to celebrate that championship with their fans.

But there is something to play for, even if it isn't a trophy. And first place or eighth, playing for something is kind of the point, right?

"A little bit. It just depends on how you take it. You can make it bigger than what it needs to be, or just keep it simple," outfielder Leighton Banjoff said. "Each day, each game — we got practice (Wednesday); we need to take that as serious as any other game. So just having that same great attitude is what’s going to help us."

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Assistant sports editor/high schools

A Ravenna native, Chris Basnett joined the Journal Star in 2016 and has more than 20 years of experience covering prep, college, and professional sports.

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