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Huskers concerned only with themselves as series with defending champs looms

February 21, 2019

Ask them, and Nebraska’s baseball players will tell you their success last weekend against UC Riverside was a result of focusing on themselves and not worrying who was in the other dugout.

That will be the goal again this weekend, though it might be a little more difficult to avoid at least noticing who the other guys are.

Nebraska leaves the snowy plains to take on defending national champion Oregon State in a four-game series beginning Thursday in Surprise, Arizona.

It’s not just that the Beavers won last season’s College World Series. They did it while going 55-12-1, one season after going 56-6 in 2017. They’re 4-0 this season, having outscored their first four opponents 33-9. That includes a 13-1 smacking of defending Big Ten champion Minnesota.

No. 7 Oregon State is 6-1 all-time against NU, including winning two games each in 2017 and 2018.

None of that, though, concerns coach Darin Erstad or his players.

“We don’t let anybody dictate how we go about our business. You start putting more importance on this game, it’s got to balance out sometime and you’re going to put less importance on another game. And the last time I checked, that doesn’t work very well,” Erstad said. “We’re just going to go out, do our thing, get after it.”

Nebraska (3-1) heads to Arizona with its own momentum, having outscored Riverside 47-23. That offense will be tested by an OSU pitching staff that returns much of the firepower from last year’s team.

It’s also an offense that got a boost from its newcomers, including juco transfer and Papillion-La Vista South graduate Aaron Palensky, who hit .333 with four RBIs out of the cleanup spot.

“They’re just another team. I’m excited to go out there and play,” Palensky said. “We’re approaching everybody the same. I don’t really feel like (the opponent) matters a whole lot.”

Another guy who isn’t concerned with the opponent? Pitcher Connor Curry. Curry made his college debut two seasons ago against Oregon State, giving up two hits and three runs in a 10-1 Husker loss.

“It was a little rough. but now I have two more years under my belt,” Curry said. “I haven’t pitched a lot, but I’m ready to go. It’s just another team at the plate.”

Perry to make first start

Freshman pitcher Kyle Perry made his debut last weekend, but his real welcome to college baseball will come Thursday.

That’s when the Millard South graduate will make his first collegiate start against none other than the defending national champion Oregon State Beavers in the series opener between the teams.

Perry, a 6-foot, 170-pound left-hander, went 6-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 81 strikeouts last season, helping Millard South to a runner-up finish at the Class A state tournament.

He’ll start Thursday so that Nebraska’s other pitchers can work on normal rest. Chad Luensmann will start Friday’s game, followed by Nate Fisher and Colby Gomes.

“He’s a young kid who likes to compete,” Erstad said. “We’ve always projected him as a starter, and with the short week we wanted to keep everyone on their normal rest. And Kyle’s next in line.”

Perry’s foe on the mound will Kevin Abel, the College World Series hero who threw a two-hit shutout in Game 3 of last year’s championship series to lift the Beavers to the title.

Perry made his college debut Saturday against UC Riverside, recording a key strikeout in the seventh inning of a 10-6 Nebraska win.