Huskers Head to Big 12 Tournament

By NU Athletic Communications
Phil Shirek and the Huskers head to Arlington, Texas, for the Big 12 Tournament.
Phil Shirek and the Huskers head to Arlington, Texas, for the Big 12 Tournament.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament (Ameriquest Field in Arlington)
Season Record (35-21, 11-16 Big 12)
Wed. (May 26) vs. Texas (48-11, 19-7 Big 12) Ameriquest Field 8 p.m.
Thurs. (May 26) Oklahoma State (33-22, 15-11)/Texas A&M (39-17, 14-12) Ameriquest Field 1/8 p.m.

Nebraska Pitching Probables
Game 1 - Justin Pekarek, Sr., LHP (7-1, 3.19 ERA
Game 2 - Zach Kroenke, So., LHP (7-4, 3.07 ERA)
Game 3 - Phil Shirek, Jr., RHP (5-1, 2.89 ERA)

Media Information
Radio: Pinnacle Sports Network
TV: Saturday (10 a.m. & 1 p.m. games) & Sunday - Fox Sports Net
Live Stats:
Internet Video Streaming: Nebraska’s games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (if NU falls into the loser’s bracket) will be streamed live. In addition, if Nebraska is in the "if necessary" game on Saturday evening, that game will be available as well. The games which are Fox Sports Net will not be carried live on the Internet.

Huskers Head to Big 12 Tournament in Arlington
The Nebraska baseball team ventures to Arlington, Texas, this week for the Phillips 66 Big 12 baseball tournament. The four-day, extravaganza begins Wednesday, May 26, and runs until Sunday, May 30 in newly named Ameriquest Field (formerly the Ballpark in Arlington).

All of Nebraska’s games will be carried on the Pinnacle Sports Network with Jim Rose and Gary Sharp calling all of the action. In addition, fans who aren’t in attendance can watch live on the Internet on HuskersNside, as both Wednesday and Thursday’s games will be carried live on the site.

The Huskers finished the regular season with a 35-21 mark, placing eighth in the Big 12 with an 11-16 mark, the first time that Nebraska hasn’t finished first or second in the league since 1999. The Huskers have now qualified for each of the past six Big 12 postseason events dating back to 1999.

The Huskers open tournament action Wednesday evening, as they take on regular-season champion Texas in a matchup of the last five Big 12 tournament champions (NU, 1999-2001; Texas 2002-03). The Longhorns, who were ranked as high as second in the national polls, took 2-of-3 from No. 9 Texas A&M last weekend to earn their second regular-season title in three years.

At 48-11 and 19-7 in the league, Texas is looking to lock up one of the eight national seeds for the upcoming NCAA tournament, while the Huskers need a strong effort this week to keep their hopes for a sixth-straight NCAA regional berth alive.

While a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds may seem like a mismatch, history shows that the tourney opener can bring unexpected results. Since the tournament went to the current eight-team format in 1999, the top-seeded team has gone only 3-2 against the No. 8 seed, with Oklahoma (1999) and Texas A&M (2002) pulling first-round suprises. Two years ago, the Aggies defeated Texas, 8-4, handing UT ace Justin Simmons his only blemish in a 16-1 year.

Following Wednesday’s tournament opener, Nebraska will face either fourth-seeded Oklahoma State (33-22, 15-11 Big 12) or fifth-seeded Texas A&M (39-17, 17-12) on Thursday. A win on Wednesday means that NU will play Thursday evening at 8 p.m., while a loss sends NU to an elimination game against the Cowboys or Aggies Thursday morning at 1 p.m.

The other half of the bracket includes Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma State, Texas Tech (No. 3), Baylor (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 7). The two brackets will battle in a double-elimination tournament with the winners squaring off Sunday afternoon in the title game with the league’s automatic NCAA berth on the line.

The Huskers will fly out of Omaha on Monday afternoon (depart Lincoln at Noon) and practice Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Ameriquest Field, following a press conference slated 11:30 a.m. at the ballpark.

2004 Big 12 Tournament Schedule

Wednesday, May 26
Tentative schedule  (45-minute minimum between games):
Game 1: #3 Texas Tech vs. #6 Baylor, 10 a.m.
Game 2: #2 Oklahoma vs. #7 Missouri, 1 p.m.
Game 3: #4 Oklahoma State vs. #5 Texas A&M, 5 p.m.
Game 4: #1 Texas vs. #8 Nebraska, 8 p.m.

Thursday, May 27
Game 5: Losers Games 1 and 2, 10 a.m.
Game 6: Losers Games 3 and 4, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Winners Games 1 and 2, 5 p.m.
Game 8: Winners Games 3 and 4, 8 p.m.

Friday., May 28
Game 9: Opponents TBD, 4 p.m.
Game 10: Opponents TBD, 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 29
Game 11: Opponents TBD, 10 a.m. (Fox Sports Net)
Game 12: Opponents TBD, 1 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)
Game 13: (If necessary), 5 p.m.
Game 14: (If necessary), 7 or 8 p.m.

Sunday, May 30
Game 13, 14 or 15: Championship, 1 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)

Scouting Texas
Head Coach Augie Garrido (325-173-1 in eight seasons at Texas; 1,478-697-8 overall in 36 seasons) leads Texas into the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 1 seed after guiding the Longhorns to the Big 12 regular-season title with a 19-7 league mark and 48-11 overall record. Texas won 2-of-3 from No. 9 Texas A&M over the weekend, but lost its final regular-season game with a 7-1 setback to the Aggies in College Station on Sunday. UT actually lost three of its last five contests after getting shut out in both games of a doubleheader against North Carolina State in Austin on May 15.

The Longhorns took two of three games from the Huskers in Austin April 23-25, but Nebraska escaped with a 4-3 win in the finale on Sunday. Since beating NU 4-2 on April 24, Texas is just 7-6 in its last 13 games and has been shut out on three occasions, while managing just one run in two other contests.

While the Longhorn bats have been inconsistent down the stretch, the Texas pitching staff continues to lead the Big 12 and rank among the best in the nation with a 2.51 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .213 against the Longhorns. Texas has notched 10 shutouts, thanks in part to a team strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.8-to-1. Junior left-hander J.P. Howell has been UT’s ace throughout the season, leading Big 12 starters in wins (12-2), ERA (1.94), strikeouts (130 in 106.2 innings) and opponent batting average (.171). All-American Huston Street (4-1, 10 SV, 1.60 ERA) and J. Brent Cox (4-1, 5 SV, 1.65 ERA) lead a dominant Texas bullpen that also includes Buck Cody (1-1, 2 SV, 1.50 ERA). All nine of UT’s pitchers with more than three appearances own ERA’s under 4.00, while seven carry sub-3.00 ERA’s.

Offensively, Carson Kainer has been UT’s most consistent hitter, batting .364 with an on-base percentage of .423. Kainer also leads the Longhorns with a .354 average against Big 12 opponents. Curtis Thigpen is hitting .358 on the year with a team-best .466 on-base percentage to go along with his team-high 44 runs scored and team-best 12 doubles. He has added four homers and 37 RBIs, as the only other Longhorn batting over .300 on the year. Drew Stubbs enters the Big 12 Tournament hitting .297 with five homers and 29 RBIs, while adding a team-high 23 stolen bases in 27 attempts. Stubbs has also struck out a team-high 58 times. Seth Johnston is hitting .294 and leads UT with six home runs, while matching Taylor Teagarden for the team lead with 39 RBIs. Johnston has added 14 stolen bases in 23 attempts. As a team, the Longhorns rank ninth in the Big 12 in team batting

Nebraska leads the all-time series, 18-13, in a series that dates back to 1954, but lost the 2004 regular-season series against Texas for the first time in six years. In 2003, NU went 2-1, winning twice at Hawks Field while the Longhorns won the finale, 10-4, in Omaha last April. The teams have met only once in the postseason, with Texas winning the 2002 Big 12 Tournament title game by a 9-6 count at Arlington in 10 innings.

Huskers Look for Fourth Big 12 Tourney Title
Nebraska makes its sixth consecutive appearance in the Big 12 Tournament in Arlington this week and looks to continue its run of success.

The Huskers are 18-4 in the Big 12 tournament, taking home three straight titles from 1999 to 2001 and finishing second two years ago in Arlington. The Huskers became the first team to win three tournament titles and also became the first league team to win the regular-season and tournament titles in the same season, when they captured both titles in 2001.

Of the current 25-man roster for this week, 12 have previous Big 12 tournament experience, including John Grose, Joe Simokaitis and Daniel Bruce, who each have been starters in the last two tournaments. Complete stats and recaps from the 2003 tournament are included later in this packet.

Pekarek Chases History
After not being on Nebraska’s 25-man NCAA roster a year ago, fifth-year senior Justin Pekarek takes the hill in Nebraska’s Big 12 Tournament opener against No. 2 Texas Wednesday night. Pekarek, who is 7-1 with a 3.19 ERA, has allowed just 14 hits - and just one for extra bases - over his last seven appearances. With 27 consecutive scoreless innings, Pekarek is on the doorstep of breaking the school mark for consecutive shutout innings.

School Record for Consecutive Scoreless Innings
IP Pitcher Year
27.1 Jamie Rodrigue 2000
27.1 Phil Harrison 1984
27.0 Justin Pekarek 2004

A Rare 1-0 Gem
Nebraska picked up its sixth shutout of the season in emphatic fashion, outlasting No. 18 Oklahoma, 1-0, in 11 innings. While the Huskers have pitched six shutouts, good for second in the Big 12, Saturday’s win marked NU’s first 1-0 win since a victory at Louisville on Feb. 27, 1998. At home, the feat was an even more rare, as NU had not spun a 1-0 blanking at home in 24 years - April 26, 1980, in a 1-0 win over Missouri.

56 and Counting
With Saturday’s shutout, the Huskers not only snapped OU’s streak of scoring at least one run in 216 straight games, but regained the lead for the longest time without a shutout in the Big 12. Nebraska, which had a streak of 330 consecutive games with a run - the fourth longest streak in NCAA history -snapped in the 2003 regional title game, was the only Big 12 team not shut out during the 2004 regular season.

Huskers Play 11th Road Game in Pro Ballpark
Tuesday’s visit to Rosenblatt Stadium marks the Huskers’ 11th road game at a AAA or Major League ballpark this spring. Nebraska is 7-3 on the year, posting a 3-0 mark at Isotopes Park (AAA Albuquerque Isotopes), a 1-2 record at the Metrodome (Minnesota Twins), a 2-1 record at Petco Park (San Diego Padres) and a 1-0 record at Rosenblatt Stadium (AAA Omaha Royals). In addition, the Huskers’ ballpark - Hawks Field at Haymarket Park - hosted the Omaha Royals in their series opener with Fresno earlier this month.

Leading Off:
- Last week marked the first time in 82 weeks that the Huskers were not ranked in any of the three major baseball polls (Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America or Sports Weekly/ESPN Coaches) since April of 2000.

- The lone Texan on the 2004 postseason roster is freshman Brad Furnish (Lucas, Texas). The hard-throwing lefty is 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA, as he is holding opponents to a .221 average.

- Third baseman Alex Gordon is the lone Husker to start all 56 games this season, and has been in the starting lineup the past 77 contests, dating back to April 23, 2003. This season, Gordon has played in 493 of Nebraska’s 497 innings, sitting out the final two innings of NU’s wins over Kent State (Feb. 22) and Boston College (March 21).

- Nebraska puts its unblemished record of playing on Wednesdays on the line against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tourney opener. The Huskers are 5-0 on Wednesdays, while UT is 1-0 in their only Wednesday game of the season.

- Few people enjoy playing at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium as much as Husker junior outfielder Daniel Bruce. The Millard West product is hitting a robust .464 (13-for-28) with six RBIs in six career games at Rosenblatt. Bruce went 2-for-5 with a double and triple in last Tuesday’s win over Creighton.

- Nebraska’s six shutouts are the most since the 2000 season when the Husker pitchers recorded nine shutouts. It also marks just the second time since 1991 that the Husker pitching staff has six or more shutouts in a year.

- Husker pitchers are issuing a league-low 2.77 walks per nine innings. NU is one of only three Big 12 teams who have walked less than three hitters per nine innings (Missouri, 2.87; Texas, 2.99)

- The May 16 loss at Baylor marked the first time that Nebraska had been swept in league play since the 2000 season. Since then, Nebraska has 13 three-game sweeps in league play, covering nine different league opponents. NU swept Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M twice while taking brooms once to Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor. In fact, the only Big 12 team NU didn’t sweep in that stretch was Texas.

- Nebraska saw its streak of 49 consecutive errorless innings come to an end at Creighton on May 18, as the Huskers committed their first error since May 10. The Jake Mullinax error in the first inning also snapped a streak of nine straight games without an error by the Husker infield dating back to May 2.

NU has now gone at least 45 innings without an error this season three times, including a stretch of 63.1 straight innings - the longest in over 20 years. NU is 10-6 when its does not commit a miscue. Tuesday’s four-error game was one off a season high set on April 17 at Missouri. Nebraska’s .775 fielding percentage is on pace to break the school mark (.771 in 1994 and 1995)

Error Free Zone (45+ innings without an error)
Innings Dates
63.1 March 16-28
49.0 May 10-18
46.0 March 30-April 5

- Alex Gordon looks to extend Nebraska’s streak of Big 12 home run champions, as he is second in the league with 17 round trippers, one behind Travis Metcalf of Kansas - which ended its season on Sunday - and Josh Brady of Texas Tech for the league lead. A Husker has led the Big 12 in homers in each of the past four seasons, dating back to the 2000 season (Matt Hopper and Dan Johnson, 2000; Dan Johnson, 2001; Jed Morris, 2002; Matt Hopper, 2003).

While Gordon adds his legacy to an impressive list of Husker sluggers, he also looks to become the first Husker third baseman to earn first-team all-conference accolades since Derek Dukart in 1994. Gordon’s performance not only potentially puts him among the favorites for league honors, but also compares very favorably to NU’s last two Big 12 Players of the Year (Jed Morris in 2002 and Matt Hopper in 2003). In addition, Ken Harvey’s numbers from the 1999 season when he was Smith Award and Golden Spikes finalist are included below.

Stats After 56 Games
Player, Year Avg. Runs HR RBI SLG. OBP
Gordon, 2004 .369 61 17 72 .759 .490
Hopper, 2003 .390 58 18 58 .715 .508
Morris, 2002 .370 60 20 70 .736 .433
Harvey, 1999 .483 72 23 81 .890 .559

- Entering the postseason, sophomore third baseman Alex Gordon is looking to become the Big 12’s first triple crown (average, homers and RBIs) winner. Gordon is currently third in all three categories with a .369 average, 17 homers and 72 RBIs. The last conference player (Big Eight/SWC) to lead the league in all three categories in a single season was Oklahoma State’s Pete Incaviglia (.464-48-143) in 1985.

- Throughout 2004, the Huskers have bolted to fast starts, outscoring opponents 54-25 in the opening inning of games and 149-68 over the first three innings.

*- At first glance, the Huskers’ career hit-by pitch list looks very much like the 2004 lineup. Of the top 11 players on the all-time list (21 or more HBP), five are current players and a sixth is second-year volunteer assistant Brandt Vlieger. NU hitters have been hit 93 times, 10 shy of the school and Big 12 record set of 103 set last season.

- With Saturday’s win, the Huskers improved to 3-0 in extra inning games this season and have won five of seven over the past three years. The only losses have come at the Big 12 Tournament to Texas (9-6, 10 innings in 2002) and Baylor (7-5, 14 innings in 2003).

- The Huskers have scored five or more runs in an inning 12 times in 2004, spanning a total of 11 games, including a five-run inning in last Tuesday’s win over Creighton.

Big Innings (Five or more Runs in an Inning in 2004)
No. Inn. Opponent Date Result
8 3rd Northwestern Feb. 20 W
8 5th Missouri April 18 W
7 5th New Mexico April 6 W
7 1st North Carolina Feb. 28 W
5 1st Northwestern Feb. 20 W
6 2nd Kent State Feb. 22 W
5 3rd Boston College March 21 W
5 5th Kansas-2 March 28 W
5 8th Kansas State April 2 W
5 6th Oklahoma State May 10 W
5 5th Creighton May 18 W

Gordon Invited to USA National Team Trials
Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon was one of 19 players invited by USA Baseball to participate in the USA National Team Trials June 20-26 in Durham, N.C. Gordon was one of three Big 12 players invited, joining the Texas duo of J. Brent Cox and Taylor Teagarden. An additional 17 players will be invited later in the spring for the 20-man final roster. Gordon is bidding to become Nebraska’s first Team USA player since Paul Meyers was selected in 1985.

Bruce Named Academic All-District VII
Junior outfielder Daniel Bruce was honored last Thursday as he was a first-team CoSIDA Academic All-District VII selection. The Omaha, Neb., native is hitting .249 in 49 games with seven homers and 30 RBIs. In the classroom, he carries a 3.872 GPA in English and is bidding to become a two-time Academic All-Big 12 selection. Bruce is now eligible for CoSIDA Academic All-America honors and looks to become NU’s ninth baseball Academic All-America since 1998.

Gordon Honored Twice
Gordon was named to Baseball America’s mid-season All-America team in early April. The Lincoln native was one of 17 sophomores chosen for the team, which includes one starter at each position, one utility player and six pitchers (five starters and a reliever). Baseball America lists a team for each of the four classes.

He was also honored as one of 30 players selected to the Golden Spikes Watch List. The Golden Spikes Award has been presented annually by USA Baseball since 1978 to the player who exhibits exceptional athletic ability and exemplary sportsmanship. Gordon is one of four Big 12 players on the 30-player watch list, joining Texas’ pitching duo of J.P. Howell and Huston Street and Oklahoma State catcher Jason Jaramillo. Last week, he joined another exclusive list, as one of 30 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Award for the nation’s top player.

Grose Named to Johnny Bench Watch List
John Grose has been named to the Johnny Bench Watch List. The senior from Henderson, Nev., is a three-year starter for the Huskers and a career .290 hitter. Grose has thrown out 37 percent of would-be base stealers this spring, as Nebraska has allowed a league-low 32 stolen bases. He is one of 45 candidates on the initial Watch List, but did not make the semifinal list announced last week.

Second (Base) to None
With the graduation of Big 12 Player of the Year Matt Hopper, one of the questions entering 2004 was who would supply some of Hopper’s home run power. Second baseman Jake Mullinax has become one of NU’s long ball hitters in 2004. The senior co-captain from Hesperia, Calif., is second on the team with eight homers - including five in conference play. Mullinax, who also ranks among the Big 12 leaders with a .324 average and 12 sacrifices, was tied for second on the team with 20 RBIs in league games.

Getting Defensive
Several defenders have played a key role in the Huskers ranking in the top five nationally in defense (according to the May 17th rankings). First baseman Curtis Ledbetter has made just one error in 446 chances for a .998 fielding percentage, a mark better than All-American Ken Harvey’s .996 mark in 1999 - the year he was named Easton/Redline National Defensive Player of the Year.

Up the middle, NU’s double play combination of Jake Mullinax and Joe Simokaitis have combined for 16 errors in 469 chances (.965 pct.). In addition, center fielder Colin Shockey has not committed an error in 135 chances this season.

Pitchers Set Big 12 Shutout Streak Mark
In early April, the Nebraska pitching staff established a record with 43.1 scoreless innings. The record, which included 42 complete innings and parts of two others, broke the Big 12 record of 41 set by Texas in 2002. In all, the Husker pitchers tossed a pair of one-hitters, a three-hitter and a five-hitter before Kansas State scored a run in the fourth inning of NU’s win on April 4, marking the first run scored by a Husker opponent since March 28. The four consecutive shutouts equaled a mark set over a four-game stretch over parts of the 1977 and 1978 seasons.Oklahoma held the Big Eight record with 31 straight scoreless innings in 1971, while Arizona State holds the NCAA mark with 64 straight scoreless innings back in 1972.

Husker hitters have been hit at an alarming rate in 2004, getting plunked an amazing 93 times. In all, Nebraska has been hit by three or more pitches 19 times, including a season-high six against UW-Milwaukee on March 30. Colin Shockey leads the Huskers with 16 HBPs, while Daniel Bruce has been hit 14 times, increasing his school record to 56 in 174 career games. Nebraska needs to get hit 10 more times to match the school record set in 2003.

NCAA Hit-by-Pitch Marks
Team Year Games (pace) HBP
Nevada 1997 60 125
Long Beach State 1998 67 124
Arizona State 2000 59 115
Long Beach State 1999 60 114
San Jose State 2000 65 105
Nebraska 2003 65 103
Nebraska 2004 56  93

Stingy Becker Cuts Out Inheritance
Left-hander Jeremy Becker has made a name for himself as one of the Big 12’s best situational relievers. While he does not have a save, the 5-11, 215-pounder from Scottsbluff has played a major role in NU’s success. He has allowed just three of 23 inherited runners to score in 2004. The academic All-America candidate went nearly an entire year (25 runners over his last 21 appearances) without allowing an inherited runner to score from April 25, 2003 to April 17, 2004.

While Becker’s numbers are quite impressive, he is one of several relievers who have made it difficult on opponents. Brett Jensen has allowed just four of 21 inherited runners to score, and had a streak of 15 consecutive appearances without allowing an inherited runner to score snapped on Friday.

Other Huskers who excel in that role include right-handers Tim Schoeninger (5-of-18) and Dustin Timm (5-of-17), although Timm has been in the weekend rotation for the past month.

Simokaitis Shows Unexpected Power
While shortstop Joe Simokaitis is more noted for his defensive expertise, the St. Louis, Mo., native provided one of the biggest offensive highlights of the 2004 season on April 30, with his three-run homer off Texas A&M ace Jason Meyer. The homer, his first since April 17, 2003 and second in 524 career at-bats, broke a 1-all tie and gave NU a 4-1 win over the No. 10 Aggies. It also marked the first homer that Meyer allowed in 70.2 innings this season, as NU handed the Aggie lefty his first loss in nine decisions.

Simokaitis has produced three game-winner RBIs in the past month, a ninth-inning single to beat Northern Colorado, 4-3, on April 27, and an 11th inning single in a 1-0 win over No. 18 Oklahoma on Saturday in addtion to his homer against the Aggies.


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