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Erstad Praises Hirsch’s Selfless Leadership
Senior Zach Hirsch pitched the last two innings of Nebraska's 4-2 road win over Creighton.
Photo Courtesy Nate Olsen/NU Media Relations
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
04/09/2014
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Randy York’s N-Sider

Timing is a big part of baseball, and even though Nebraska did not use a relief pitcher in a wild three-game home series last weekend against Ohio State, someone had to answer the call with the Huskers trailing Creighton, 2-1, Tuesday night in Omaha. Darin Erstad and Ted Silva made the joint decision to put the ball in the hands of Zach Hirsch, a senior left-hander from North High School in St. Charles, Ill. Hirsch, who has not given up a run since March 13, made quick work of the Jays in the eighth and ninth innings at TD Ameritrade Park, allowing the Huskers to take momentum into Wednesday’s home game against Kansas State.

Never one to exaggerate, Erstad recently told me that Hirsch doesn’t get the credit he deserves, especially when you consider everything the one-time starter has endured. From his arm injuries to his bullpen role, Hirsch has never wavered. “He broke his arm in a drill last year and came back to school after he graduated,” Erstad said. “He’s mentored our guys off the field and deserves a lot of credit for the influence he’s had on our players.”

Erstad sees Hirsch as focused and willing to do everything he can to expand a point or elaborate on a thought. “He just has one of those personalities,” Erstad said. “He’s outgoing and cares about others before himself. He believes in what we’re doing here, and he wants to leave the University of Nebraska baseball program in a better state than when he got here. His mentality is to want everybody to get better. He’s always thinking about others before himself. That’s what I see out of Zach.”

The N-Sider caught up with Hirsch to get his take on the state of the season and a glimpse into the program. Please join our nine Q's & A's conversation:

Q-1: You’ve gone through your share of adversity. Take us back to what you experienced and explain how you handled the hardships?

A-1: “I came in excited to be part of the team and about six weeks in, I hurt my elbow and had surgery. It was pretty disappointing, but I was fortunate enough that it was early in my career where I had a lot of time to rehab and do different things. At that point, it was really about sticking with the process. We have a great training staff here, and they encouraged me to stay positive. Rehab was a long and tedious process.

Q-2: So no one had to tell you that you don’t see results right away when you have Tommy John surgery, right?

A-2: I knew what I was facing and was very inconsistent, something I wasn’t used to. I had to work through some of that. By my junior year I was okay. I was finally starting to get into a groove my senior year when I ended up breaking my arm. That was kind of a tough blow because I was throwing well and finding my niche within the team in terms of pitching in the bullpen. I was fortunate enough to have a fifth year so I could play this year. I knew it was a possibility because I redshirted my freshman year. I’ve had a couple of setbacks but was fortunate to get an extra year and one more chance.

Q-3: How does Coach Erstad inspire you?

A-3: There’s large mutual respect between us. I never have an issue going to him with any issues that I have. We have a great line of communication. We get along very well. I think when you talk about persevering and staying on point and having to keep going, a lot of our team reflects his mentality. That’s how he is. He’s a very tough guy and works very hard. We all know that, and I think we’re all a byproduct of his leadership.

Q-4: How easy was it to say I’m all in with this guy?

A-4: It was definitely early on because he was a volunteer here. We joked around, maybe because we’re both lefties. When he decided to take the job, he gave me a call and said he was the head coach. I was really excited because I knew he wanted to take this program in a great direction. I was all in immediately.

Q-5: If the team is a reflection of its head coach, what’s the chosen culture?

A-5: With Coach Erstad, you always know what you’re getting. He tells you like it is, and I think most guys appreciate that. You know exactly what he expects of you. He's all about playing hard, having great energy and hopefully translating that into winning. Sometimes it doesn’t, and it is what it is. The issue he has is if we have a down game, maybe we’re not playing to the best of our abilities. It’s hard to describe unless you really play for him. But I would say that the guys have really bought in and understand what the coaches expect of us. I think all the older guys especially understand what Coach Erstad expects, so we try to voice that and get the younger guys to buy in even more and to understand exactly what’s expected.

Q-6: What about Coach Silva?

A-6: We get along really well. He's helped my career. We have a good relationship.

Q-7: Your team is on a bit of a roll right now. What are you thinking?

A-7: I don’t think there’s any way to beat around the bush. We’ve been inconsistent this year. At times, we’ve shown we can beat one of the top teams in the country and at times, we’ve shown that we can lose to anyone. I think our goal from here on out is to find that consistent level of baseball and to play at a high level every game. It may not translate into a win every single game, but we came up with a goal at the beginning of the year to play every game like it’s the Big Ten Championship. When we do that, we’re usually pretty successful. We need to find that consistent level of play and consistent level of energy. When we find it, we do special things. You can talk about it all you want. At the end of the day, it’s all about doing it.

Q-8: Are your team goals to contend for the Big Ten Championship and to qualify for the College World Series 

A-8: Yeah, absolutely. All it takes is a few wins to get going. We had a good win last week against Arkansas, and we kept that going into the weekend against Ohio State. When you get things rolling, you never know what can happen. When you play with a lot of energy and focus and fire, the rest will take care of itself.

Q-9: Last question. How would you define your role on this team?

A-9: It's the same every weekend. They ask me to be that guy in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, depending on the situation with the starters. If it’s close, we have a lot of great guys in the bullpen who are fully capable of pitching well, and I feel very fortunate to be part of that.

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