Pitching makes Huskers a CWS favorite
Here's an in-depth look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers, one of the eight teams competing in the College World Series, which starts Friday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
Bracket 1/No. 3 national seed
Coach: Mike Anderson (third season)
CWS History: Two trips to Omaha (last in 2002), no titles
How They Got Here: Won the Lincoln, Neb., regional in three games, beating Creighton in the final. Swept Miami at home in the super regional.
Players To Watch: Jr. 3B Alex Gordon (.380-19-64, 23 steals), Sr. 1B Curtis Ledbetter (.325-13-54), Soph. RHP Joba Chamberlain (9-2, 2.74, 126 strikeouts), Fr. RHP Johnny Dorn (12-1, 1.98, 75 strikeouts).
Scouting the Cornhuskers: Nebraska is the best team in the Big 12. It's an older club that knows how to play. They know what's expected. The one thing you have to prepare for is the pitching. The pitching is outstanding. The Nebraska pitchers throw strike one, work fast and never throw anything down the middle of the plate.
Joba Chamberlain thinks he's going to win every time. He throws that slider for strikes, plus it is tough to see coming off a fastball that was 89-92. You have to hit the ball the other way on the two left-handers or you have no chance. Zack Kroenke gets ahead with his fastball, then goes slider late. Brian Duensing knows how to pitch. He works off the fastball and you have to hang with his slow breaking ball. Johnny Dorn came on late, he's successful because he throws so many breaking balls for strikes.
Offensively, the Cornhuskers like to drag and push at the top and bottom of the order and they'll run aggressively, even in down counts. You have to short game them because they do that. When we played them, Alex Gordon was Brooks Robinson defensively, but you still have to make them play catch. You can't toe it up with them.
Be careful with Curtis Ledbetter. He'll chase breaking balls and you can elevate fastballs with two strikes, but be careful because of his power. Joe Simokaitis is a solid player. There's not an easy out in that lineup. It's 0-2, and they foul off pitches. They fight you. If you have velocity, you can throw some fastballs by them, then pitch them backwards. You can't get in any patterns with their hitters because they are old and have been there. You can't be afraid inside, and you have to move them off the plate. We tried everything with Gordon. Just don't let him beat you.
Omaha Outlook: Nebraska returns to Omaha for the third time in five seasons the first time under coach Mike Anderson. Nebraska won 19 of its first 21 games, but a team that finished eighth in the Big 12 a year ago still needed to prove itself in conference play. Sharing the regular-season conference title and winning the tournament accomplished that. Nebraska hits Omaha on a hot streak, having won 15 of its last 16 games.
The Cornhuskers rank second in the nation in ERA (2.61) thanks to adding newcomers Joba Chamberlain and Johnny Dorn to the front of the rotation. Its offense has proven much more than just a bunch of guys batting around Alex Gordon. Nebraska found consistency at the plate during the second half of the year when freshmen Ryan Wehrle, Andy Gerch and Ryan Bohanan won regular jobs.
Add in one of the nation's best fielding defenses, and Nebraska should at least earn its first win in Omaha. With strong local support in the stands, there's no reason the Huskers can't win a few more than that. The championship series looks realistic.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.
Editor's note: Baseball America contacted college coaches familiar with the teams for analysis. Anonymity was granted in exchange for their candor.
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