Huskers Face Eastern Illinois in NCAA Opener
Lincoln - The Nebraska baseball team captured the top seed in the NCAA Lincoln Regional and will open play against Eastern Illinois at Hawks Field on Friday, May 30, at 1:05 p.m. No. 2 seed UC Irvine and third-seeded Oral Roberts will also be coming to Hawks Field for the four-team, double-elimination regional this weekend. ORU and UC Irvine will face off on Friday at 7:05 p.m.
The Huskers (40-14-1) will be making their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 10 years when Lincoln Regional play opens on Friday. Tickets for the Lincoln Regional are available now on Huskers.com, or by calling the Nebraska Athletic Ticket Office at 1-800-8BIGRED during normal business hours beginning on Tuesday, May 27, at 8 a.m.
The Huskers, who learned on Sunday that they were one of 16 regional hosts for the NCAA Tournament, discovered their challengers on the Road to Omaha when the full 64-team field was announced by ESPN on Monday at 11:30 a.m.
Miami claimed the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, while North Carolina captured the No. 2 seed. Arizona State earned the No. 3 seed, and Florida State reeled in the fourth seed. Cal State Fullerton was tabbed the No. 5 seed, while Rice laid claim to the sixth seed. LSU captured the No. 7 seed, while SEC regular-season champion Georgia rounded out the top eight national seeds. Two-time defending national champion Oregon State (28-24) did not earn a bid to the tournament.
If the Huskers are able to advance to the Super Regional round, they will face the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional, which includes top-seeded LSU, No. 2 seed Southern Miss, No. 3 seed New Orleans and fourth-seeded Texas Southern. The eight Super Regional series will be held June 6-9, while the eight winners of those Super Regionals will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, June 14-25.
Nebraska was one of six Big 12 Conference teams to earn spots in the 64-team NCAA Tournament field, and one of three league teams to earn a No. 1 seed and the right to host an NCAA Regional. Big 12 regular-season champion Texas A&M earned a top seed in the College Station Regional, while Oklahoma State earned a No. 1 seed at the Stillwater Regional.
Big 12 Tournament champion Texas claimed a No. 2 seed at the Houston Regional hosted by top-seeded Rice, while Missouri also earned a No. 2 seed at the Miami Regional with the No. 1 overall seed Hurricanes. Oklahoma managed a No. 3 seed at the Tempe Regional hosted by No. 3 national seed Arizona State.
Eastern Illinois comes to Lincoln after capturing the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Charleston, Ill., school brings a 27-28 overall mark to Nebraska after defeating Southeast Missouri in the OVC championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning the league title in 1999. That season, the Panthers knocked off Arizona in the Waco Regional hosted by Baylor, before being eliminated from the tournament.
Head Coach Jim Schmitz led Eastern Illinois to a 13-13 conference mark during regular-season Ohio Valley Conference play. The Panthers are hitting .281 with 30 homers as a team while averaging six runs scored per game. Panther pitchers own a 4.33 team ERA, while opponents have scored 5.5 runs per contest and hit .253 against Eastern Illinois.
Junior center fielder Brett Nommensen leads the Panther offense by hitting .397 with four homers, four triples and 17 doubles on the year. The first-team All-OVC selection has scored a team-leading 54 runs, while also stealing a team-best 18 bases. The only other Panther batting over .300 is sophomore outfielder Curt Restko, who comes to Lincoln with a .305 average. Restko has one homer and 19 RBIs.
Josh Mueller emerged as the ace of the Eastern Illinois pitching staff during the season and earned a spot on the All-OVC Freshman Team. Mueller went 6-7 with a 4.26 ERA on the year. Mueller struck out 75 and walked 41 in 67.2 innings pitched, while holding opponents to a .218 batting average.
The Huskers will be facing Eastern Illinois for the first time in school history when the two teams meet on Friday.
UC Irvine (38-16) earned the No. 2 seed in the Lincoln Regional. The Huskers own a 1-0 all-time record against the Anteaters, as NU posted a 5-3 win in the only previous meeting on Feb. 22, 1980.
The Anteaters finished in a tie for third in the Big West Conference regular-season standings after shutting out UC Santa Barbara, 2-0, on Sunday, May 25, at the Anteater Ballpark. UC Irvine finished with a 14-10 conference mark. The Anteaters come to Lincoln as winners of four of their past five games.
On the season, UCI owns an impressive 2.87 team ERA, while carrying a .305 team batting average. The Anteaters are averaging 6.1 runs per game, while holding the opposition to just 3.8 runs per contest. Ben Orloff leads an extremely balanced UCI offense by hitting .355 with 18 stolen bases. Orloff is one of seven Anteater regulars batting over .300, including Francis Larson who owns team bests with seven homers and 39 RBIs to go along with his .326 average. Ollie Linton has added a .323 average and a team-leading 36 stolen bases.
Last season, UC Irvine produced one of the best seasons in school history with a 47-17-1 overall record and a 15-6 Big West mark. The Anteaters advanced to the College World Series by beating Texas in the regional round before sweeping Wichita State in the Super Regional. At the CWS, UCI opened with a loss to Arizona State, before knocking off both Cal State Fullerton and the Sun Devils. The Anteaters had their season come to an end with a 7-1 loss to 2007 national champion Oregon State.
Third-seeded Oral Roberts owns the best record in the Lincoln Regional field with a 46-12 overall mark. The Golden Eagles captured their 11th straight conference title by winning the Summit League tournament with a 9-0 win over Southern Utah on Saturday at J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa.
ORU comes to Lincoln riding a 12-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles dominated the Summit League All-Tournament Team with seven selections to the squad, including MVP Brian Van Kirk. He was joined on the unit by Brendan Duff, David Genao, Juan Martinez, Kelly Minissale, Ben Petralli and Jerry Sullivan.
Van Kirk enters the NCAA Tournament hitting .421 with 17 homers, 22 doubles and 72 RBIs on the season. He headlines a Golden Eagle squad that is batting .330 as a team with 74 home runs and 138 doubles. ORU is averaging 8.6 runs per game, while holding the opposition to 4.8 runs per contest. As a team, the Golden Eagles carry a 4.22 ERA. Carlos Luna owns a perfect 12-0 record on the season with a 3.15 ERA, while teammate Michael Jarman is 11-2 with a 3.74 ERA.
Nebraska and Oral Roberts have faced each other 34 times in history, with the Golden Eagles carrying a 19-15 advantage in the all-time series.The two teams have not faced each other since the Huskers swept a three-game series against ORU, April 5-7, 1996.
2008 NCAA Lincoln Regional
May 30-June 2
Hawks Field, Lincoln, Neb.
Friday, May 30
Game 1: #1 Nebraska (40-14-1) vs. #4 Eastern Illinois (27-28), 1:05 p.m.
Game 2: #2 UC Irvine (38-16) vs. #3 Oral Roberts (46-12), 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, May 31
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1:05 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday, June 1
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1:05 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6:05 p.m.
Monday, June 2
Game 7 (If necessary): Same teams as Game 6, 1:05 p.m.
Head Coach Mike Anderson
“This team and this program is thrilled to have an NCAARegional at home. We felt good about the fact that we found that out last night. We got the chance to prepare the way we wanted to today. We’re out on the field and ready to go. The kids are ready.”
On Eastern Illinois
“I don’t have much information on Eastern Illinois yet. We will find that out. We understand UC Irvine and Oral Roberts are also in the Regional. I know it sounds a lot like coach-talk, but we’re focused on Eastern Illinois. The coaching staff will do diligent work to find out as much information and get our scouting reports done on Oral Roberts and UC Irvine. But we don’t even get a chance to play them unless we take care of business. We understand it is Eastern Illinois first.”
On the opportunity for the 2008 Huskers to host an NCAA Regional
“I’m thrilled. We’ve had regionals here before, but for this group of young men, I’m thrilled. I’m so happy for them to get the chance to play at home. We felt good about it coming back from Oklahoma City. We felt like we had put together enough of a season to do that. It wasn’t a gimmee. We earned it.”
“I don’t think we’re the most talented team, and we don’t have the best coach. But for goodness sakes, we’re hosting a Regional. We’re one of the top 16 teams that earned that right. Through all the regionals that I’ve been here at Nebraska, this group of kids worked the hardest to get it. I think it’s very well deserved for this group.”
On losing five of the last six games heading into this tournament
“There wasn’t one ounce of talk about that today in practice. We had a great practice. It was one of the most energized practices we’ve had in a long time. I’m just thrilled with it. My job this week is to build confidence within these young men. Being at home helps that, but I’ve got a lot of little things I’ve got to do this week to make sure they’re a confident group going into this weekend.”
On scouting the Lincoln Regional field
“We’ll do everything we can to get scouting reports. There will be a lot of conversations with coaches. You’ll go up and down the lineup in terms of their pitching staffs and try to find their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll put together a great scouting report. That’s part of our preparation. Our kids need to know everything they can about Eastern Illinois. That starts today. We’ll work on it tomorrow, Wednesday and all the way into Thursday to try and get as much information on all three of those teams.”
On the Big 12 Conference qualifying six teams for the NCAA Tournament
“There are very few teams that go through the Big 12 who don’t struggle at some point, whether it is early, middle or late. But when that happens there’s a way to fight back. This is an opportunity for us to fight back. I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons. That’s what the Big 12 does for us. I’m glad to see that from national standpoint, we’re rewarded that way. Oklahoma is a deserving team. I think all eight teams that make the Big 12 Conference tournament are deserving teams. How they (the NCAA) decide is up to them, but I’m glad they saw that six deserved it.”
On playing the No. 4 seed and past experiences
“I wouldn’t even look at a specific game. I would go to a bunch of games against teams like Butler and Manhattan. Teams that you play in the first round you have to be well prepared for. I don’t think we’ve ever stepped on the field not prepared for a team, since I’ve been a coach here. You have to be prepared, you have to execute and you have to have a little bit of luck. A lot of things have to happen. You can’t take any first-round opponent lightly. The only difference is they put a little No. 1 next to our spot so there are expectations. Let’s be blunt, if we look back to February, when we started our season down 17-0 at one point and somebody said we would be a No. 1 seed in a Regional, I might’ve laughed along with you. After it got 17-0, this team decided to fight. My point is let’s not take any team lightly. We’ll be prepared.”
On Friday’s starting pitcher
“We haven’t decided that yet. We’ll look at scouting reports and make decisions based on what Eastern Illinois brings to the table and how we can offset that. We’ll look at winning the Regional. If that means pitching off from a No. 1 or No. 2 or whatever that may be then we’ll look at that too. We haven’t made that decision. Our hope is that we’ll know enough about Eastern Illinois’ lineup tonight so that we can make that decision tomorrow, because we have to make that decision in terms of preparing our pitchers. We’ll have an idea of that tomorrow.”
On no Big 12 teams earned a top-eight national seed
“It’s such a jumble up there at the top that you don’t know. I’m pretty pleased with the fact that this team was considered for it. We were in there. Did we lose out, did we choke, did we mess up? No, none of that stuff. We did what we needed to do. We’re playing at home. Let’s see what happens from that point on. I think the teams that got them were probably deserving. It sure would have been nice if there was a Big 12 team in there, but it didn’t happen so you move on.”
On playing at home after two weeks on the road
“Being at home is special. This is a great stadium. This is a great place to play. This is concrete until they put people in here. When they put people in here, then we’re in Nebraska. Our fans are phenomenal. We love it. It’s a great environment. Most teams play the 7:00 game because they want to get the crowds. We play the 1:00 game because it ends up being an advantage for us and we know our fans are going to show up. It doesn’t matter. We take advantage of that and we know our fans will be here Friday ready to go. And I’ll promise you, we’ll play as hard as we possibly can for the state of Nebraska.”