Photo by Isabel Thalken/Nebraska Communications

NU Notebook: Altavilla Looking To Finish Strong

By Brian Rosenthal

Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad generally pays little attention to summer baseball stats of his players.

In other words, he doesn’t need to know that Angelo Altavilla hit .313 over 41 games with Waterloo, Iowa, of the Northwoods League to know that his senior infielder can consistently hit a baseball.

“It’s not a question about that,” Erstad said. “I’m just glad to see him go out there and not have to wear a facemask to play.”

Erstad was referring to the baseball Altavilla took off his face last season. That resulted in one of two trips to the hospital for the Lakeville, Minnesota native. The other came after he took a baseball to the groin.

Yeah, it was that kind of season for Altavilla, and the Huskers.

“I mean, last year wasn’t very enjoyable for me, and as a team,” Altavilla said. “I kind of went to summer ball and just told myself to have fun, and I think it kind of paid off. I couldn’t be in a better position right now.”

Erstad says the same about his entire Nebraska team, eager to atone for last season’s 24-28 overall record, and 8-14 mark in the Big Ten Conference.

“We’ve got a very motivated older group,” Erstad said.

That begins with Altavilla, who hit just .228 with five home runs and 28 RBIs last season. As a sophomore, he batted .316 with 39 RBIs.

Erstad had a simple answer when asked what he wanted to see from Altavilla this season.

“Just be Angelo,” he said. “Stop trying to do too much. Last year, he was trying to get drafted higher than the first round and hit balls 600 feet instead of just going out there and playing his game.

“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around. The guy’s a winner. Last year, I think he tried to press a little bit.”

The injuries and hospital trips, of course, didn’t help matters.

“It was just one of those years baseball gods threw a lot at him,” Erstad said, “and he’s ready to go.”

Altavilla did end last season on a strong note. He went 6-for-12 during Nebraska’s season-ending series against Illinois with one home run, three RBIs and four runs scored. In the Huskers’ final game of the season, he went 4-for-5 with a career-high three stolen bases, two RBIs and two runs scored.

“I know last year obviously didn’t go how anybody expected it to,” Altavilla said. “We’re kind of playing with a little chip on our shoulder. I know I’ve got one more year to do it, so I’m just enjoying everything and hopefully can do some damage this year.

“It’s do or die for me, and then as a team, it’s just I want to accomplish so much with these guys. Like I said, we’ve got one more year to do it.”

 

Borchardt gets nod

Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles said Monday that senior center Tanner Borchardt, a former walk-on who’s earned a scholarship, will start in place of injured Isaac Copeland Jr. against Wisconsin, with junior Isaiah Roby moving to the power forward position.

Miles will “play more guys" than fewer, he said, as Nebraska moves forward without Copeland, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear Saturday against Ohio State.

Depending on the situation, either Borchardt or freshman Brady Heiman could play inside, with Roby at power forward, or Roby could remain at center, where he’s started the majority of the season, with either freshman Amir Harris or sophomore Nana Akenten playing forward.

Nebraska (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten Conference) hosts No. 24 Wisconsin (14-6, 6-3) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers are looking to end a three-game losing streak, including a two-game skid at home, where they’d previously won 20 straight games.

“We’ve had two very good practices,” Miles said after Monday’s practice at Pinnacle Bank Arena. “Guys have worked hard. I don’t think there’s any question they’re playing with a great deal of frustration, and any time you start ruminating all that frustration, it looks like your energy level goes down, it looks like you’re not playing hard – because you aren’t.

“I don’t think they understand that until they watch and see it. We have to get past that. We have to stay positive when stuff goes wrong.”

Miles said he needs his team to get back to playing winning basketball, fight, play harder and get past a negative mentality when things go awry.

“I have not lost hope in this team. Cope went down, I felt heartbroken for him,” Miles said. “But the fact Isaac is out doesn’t mean I’m sitting here saying, ‘Woe is us.’ We’re excited. I like our group. I like the challenge that’s in front of us. I believe in this group a great deal.”

Venz Feeds Off Crowd

Nebraska wrestling fans knew when to rise to the occasion on Sunday, and Taylor Venz could tell.

“It was super loud,” Venz said. “The headgear was covering my ears and I could still hear the crowd going crazy.”

The noise grew considerably more when Venz, in the biggest match of his season, put Illinois’ Emery Parker on his back in the third period.

“Then all of the sudden,” Venz said, “when I adjusted for the pin, it just erupted. That was a lot of fun.”

Holding a 5-2 lead, Venz earned the pin 33 seconds into the third period for a critical victory in No. 7 Nebraska’s 30-9 win over No. 13 Illinois at the Devaney Sports Center.

Venz, ranked No. 5 nationally at 184 pounds, handed second-ranked Parker his first loss of the season. The two had three bouts last season, with Parker winning twice.

Venz said he simply had to be tougher than his opponent.

“I trusted in my training and my skillset enough to where I could just go out there and try to be tougher than he is,” Venz said. “I think when you apply that, big things can happen, and we saw that today.”

Venz leads all Nebraska starters with five victories by pinfall and has won two of his last three matches by fall.

Nebraska’s next home meet is Sunday versus No. 4 Iowa at noon.

Collier’s Return

Former Nebraska men’s basketball coach Barry Collier made an appearance on the overhead video board at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, with a warm ovation from the crowd.

Collier, now Director of Athletics at Butler, attended Butler’s game Friday night against Creighton in Omaha. He remained in Nebraska to come to Lincoln, where Ohio State, coach by Chris Holtmann, faced the Huskers on Saturday morning.

Collier hired Holtmann at Butler before he became Ohio State’s coach last season.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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