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Jon Keller is set to start Saturday's game against Gonzaga
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 02/16/2012
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Huskers Open 2012 Against Zags in Arizona

Friday, Feb. 17 - 8 p.m. (CT): So. Zach Hirsch (LHP) vs. So. Marco Gonzales (LHP)
Saturday, Feb. 18 - 8 p.m. (CT):
So. Jon Keller (RHP) vs. Sr. Tyler Olson (LHP)
Sunday, Feb. 19 - 1 p.m. (CT):
Fr. Kyle Kubat (LHP) vs. Sr. Andy Hunter (RHP)

This Week: Nebraska (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten) opens the 2012 season in Peoria, Ariz., with a three-game series against the Gonzaga Bulldogs (0-0, 0-0 WCC). All three games will take place at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Spring Training home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. Friday's game starts the 2012 season for both teams at 8 p.m. (CT). The Huskers and Zags will continue the set with another 8 p.m. game on Saturday, before concluding the series on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at the Peoria Sports Complex box office or by calling (623) 773-8700. All tickets are general admission and are $5.

Television: There will be no TV or internet video of any of the three games.

On the Radio: Fans across Nebraska and around the world can listen to Greg Sharpe and Lane Grindle call all of the action on the Husker Sports Network - including KLIN 1400 AM in Lincoln - and on the Internet at Huskers.com or the Official Husker App. A complete list of HSN affiliates can be found on page 7.

Preview: The Nebraska baseball team is starting with a clean slate in 2012 as the Darin Erstad era begins at Haymarket Park. Along with a new coaching staff and a roster that includes 14 new players, the Huskers will enter their first season of Big Ten baseball after 15 successful seasons in the Big 12 Conference that included three regular-season titles and four tournament crowns.

Another first will take place on Friday when the Huskers meet the Gonzaga Bulldogs for the first ever meeting between the two programs. The Zags are coming off 2011 campaign that saw them produce a 32-19-1 overall record and a 15-6 conference mark that earned them second place in the West Coast Conference.

The Huskers are projected to open the series with sophomore lefty Zach Hirsch, who would be making his first start in a Husker uniform. Gonzaga will counter with Marco Gonzales, who is coming off a freshman season that saw him earn West Coast Conference Co-Player-of-the-Year and Co-Freshman-of-the-Year honors. He also earned Freshman All-America honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and from Collegiate Baseball.

Scouting Gonzaga
Head Coach Mark Machtolf is entering his ninth season at Gonzaga and the team is coming off its fourth 30-win season in the past five years. Machtolf led his team to a second-place finish in the West Coast Conference in 2011 and his team has been picked to finish in the same spot by the league's coaches in 2012.

The Zags return seven starters from a year ago, including seniors Royce Bolinger, Andy Hunter and Eric Lane, juniors Billy Moon, Clayton Eslick and Steven Halcomb, and sophomore Marco Gonzales. Gonzales and senior Tyler Olson are the only two pitchers on staff that are expected to return to the same role in 2012.

A two-way player, Gonzales was named a freshman All-American on the mound by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and Collegiate Baseball in 2010 after posting an 11-2 record with four complete games and a 2.57 ERA. The lefty also handles the stick well, as he hit. 291 with 10 doubles and five home runs last year.

Prior to the 2012 season, Gonzales was named a second-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and was named to the Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America third team.

The left-handed Gonzales started 46 games last season, 15 as a pitcher. On the mound, he led the conference in wins (11) and had the second most strikeouts (90). The Fort Collins, Colo., native started the year with an 0-2 record on the mound, before he received his first win at Missouri. He would win his next five starts and during the streak he pitched three straight complete-games.

After facing Gonzales on Friday night, the Huskers are expected to see a pair of seniors on Saturday and Sunday. Olson is set to take the mound on Saturday night and Andy Hunter is projected to get the ball on Sunday.

Olson was 6-5 last year with a 3.97 ERA. The lefty was third on the team in starts with 13 and produced two complete games.  Opposing batters hit .287 off him with 89 hits, while he had 63 strikeouts and 29 walks in 79.1 innings of work.

Hunter started three games in 2011, but saw most of his work out of the bullpen in 14 total appearances. Over 39.1 innings of  work he produced 34 strikeouts and gave up 15 earned runs for a 3.43 ERA.

Offensively, Moon is arguably the Bulldog's top threat after hitting .337 as a sophomore. The outfielder led the team in RBIs (41), while also ranking in the top five in runs (31), doubles (14) and home runs (3) a year ago.

Bolinger also had a solid junior season, as he produced 11 doubles and 25 RBIs. Besides Moon, the only other returning player to hit above .300 last season is Lane. The senior infielder hit .314 last season with a team-leading 39 runs.

Series History: The two teams have never met before.

Kale's on First
Senior outfielder Kale Kiser will start the 2012 season with a 26-game on-base streak that reaches back to April 3, 2011. Kiser ranked second on the team in on-base percentage last season at .417, trailing All-American Cody Asche, who produced a .424 on-base percentage. Kiser led the team with a .467 on-base percentage as a sophomore in 2010 and hit .345.

Starting the Lefty
With lefty Zach Hirsch schedule to open the season for the Huskers, it will mark the first time since 2007 that a left-handed pitcher has opened the year for NU. Prior to Thad Weber's start in 2008, the Huskers had started a lefty in seven of the previous eight seasons.

Hirsch is also slated to become the first Husker pitcher to make his first career start in a season opener since Michael Mariot in 2009 and before that, Shane Komine in 1999.

Huskers Picked Fourth by League Coaches
The Big Ten coaches have picked Nebraska to finish fourth out of the league's 11 teams in 2012. Three Husker juniors were also named to the 'Players to Watch List', including right-handled pitcher Travis Huber, right-handed pitcher Tom Lemke and first baseman/designated hitter Kash Kalkowski.

After winning a share of the of the Big Ten title last season for the first time since 1979, Michigan State was picked as the league favorite. The Spartans were followed by Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Illinois, as only the top six teams were released by the conference office.

Eight Draftees on 2012 Roster
For the third straight year, Nebraska's 2012 roster boasts a total of eight Huskers who have been previously selected in the Major League Baseball Draft, including Kash Kalkowski and Travis Huber, who have each been picked twice.

New Faces on the Dirt
Fans will see a re-tooled Husker infield in 2012 as only second baseman Bryan Peters will be back in the same position he played a year ago.

After posting 53 of his 55 starts at first base in 2011, junior Kurt Farmer will switch corners in 2012 and take over for the departed Cody Asche at third base. Farmer will have big shoes to fill, as Asche led the Huskers in nearly every offensive category, including a school-record 27 doubles, on his way to being drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Phillies. The staff is confident in Farmer, after he hit .275 and drove in 32 runs in his first season as a full-time starter in 2011. He should also provide a great glove at the hot corner, as Erstad believes he has the best hands on the team.

To Farmer's left will be true freshman Pat Kelly out of Red Wing, Minn. Kelly looked great during the fall and earned the confidence of the coaching staff. He looks to be the first freshman to start  a season opener at shortstop since Ben Kline started their as a freshman in 2008 at Stanford.

Peters will once again lock down the second base position after starting 55 games a year ago. Along with being solid in the field, Peters led the team in hit-by-pitches (18), sacrifices (18) and stolen bases (12) last season.

One of the biggest surprises a year ago was the transformation of Kash Kalkowski. The Grand Island native started his Husker career as a pitcher in 2009 and had just four at-bats. Following a redshirt year in 2010 while recovering from surgery, Kalkowski successfully made the transition to the field and was arguably the team's top offensive threat behind Asche last season. After earning all his starts in 2011 in the outfield and at designated hitter, Kalkowski will look to continue his offensive growth, while moving to first base.

Erstad will look to junior Josh Scheffert to play both corners of the infield, as a designated hitter and possibly on the mound. Following a down season in 2011, Scheffert has put in the time during the offseason to rebound in 2012.

Freshman Blake Headley can play any spot in the infield and Austin Christensen could see time at first base, designated hitter and on the mound. Headley was unable to play during the fall due to a wrist injury, while Christensen saw time on the mound and in the field. The younger brother of junior outfielder Chad Christensen, Austin came to Nebraska as a pitcher, but hit .400 (4-for-10) with a double, three runs scored and an RBI during the team's annual Red-White Series in the fall to earn playing time in the field as well.

Take it for the Team
In 2011 the Huskers were hit by pitch 89 times, which tied them for 13th nationally. The team was led by Bryan Peters, who was hit 18 times to tie for 20th nationally.

A junior in 2012, Peters continues to climb the Husker career chart in hit-by-pitches and enters the year with 36, which ties him for fifth with Jake Mort (2005-09). Senior Kale Kiser is also on the career top-10 list with 32 hit-by-pitches.

Daniel Bruce (2002-05) holds the NU career record with 67 hit-by-pitches.

Options in the Outfield
Many players will be vying for time in the outfield this year with all three spots open. Senior Kale Kiser made his transition to the outfield with ease last season after playing the infield his first two seasons at Nebraska. Kiser drew 41 of his 51 starts in the outfield and was a table-setter for the Huskers with an on-base percentage of .417.

Junior Chad Christensen is a veteran on the diamond for the Huskers, but will be a rookie in the outfield this season. After starting all 55 games at shortstop in 2011, Christensen will look to take his defensive skills to one of the three outfield spots in 2012

Sophomore Michael Pritchard is the youngest of the returning players and will most likely see most of his time at designated hitter. One of the best hitters on the team, Pritchard provides the Huskers with a solid bat on the left side of the plate after hitting .304 as a freshman with an on-base percentage of nearly .400.

The three returners will also be pushed by a group of newcomers in Austin Darby, Rich Sanguinetti, Ty Kildow and Quentin Urban.

Sanguinetti has the most experience of the group, as he is a junior college transfer from Texarkana CC, where current Associate Head Coach Will Bolt was the head coach the last four seasons. The junior is a pure hitter and has great baseball speed, evident by his perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts in three games during the team's fall Red-White Series.

Darby is also solid at the plate and the coaches know they need to get him on the field because of his ability to drive in runs, while Urban is one of the best athletes on the team. Urban originally committed to South Dakota to play football before switching his commitment to Nebraska following the hiring of Erstad as head coach.

Kildow joins the Husker baseball team after two seasons of football at Nebraska. A three-time first-team Super State pick on the diamond at Millard South, Kildow is arguably the fastest player on the 2012 squad.

Right in the Fire
True freshman Pat Kelly will learn on the fly as the Red Wing, Minn., native is projected to start at shortstop for the Huskers on Friday night.

Named one of the top prep players in the state of Minnesota, Kelly was one of seven finalists for the 2011 Minnesota Minute Men Mr. Baseball Award and was a 2011 All-Metro pick by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has played in many big games, as he played summer baseball for the Ohio Warhawks, which is one of the top 18-under programs in the county. Some of the Major Leaguers to come from the organization include, Pat Burrell, A.J. Pierzynksi, Brandon Phillips, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa, Freddie Freeman, Roy Halladay and Mike Napoli.

With the start, Kelly will be the first freshman to start  a season opener at shortstop since Ben Kline started their as a freshman in 2008 at Stanford.

Behind the Dish
After catching a career-high 30 games in 2011, Cory Burleson returns for his senior year as the most experienced catcher on the roster following the departure of Patric Tolentino. Not only will Burleson need to mentor a young pitching staff, but he will also need to continue to improve on his run production after ranking fifth on the team last season with 21 RBIs in 40 games.

Sam Stucky is the only other catcher who has stepped on the field in a Husker jersey, as he saw action in four games last season. Prior to the start of practice, Erstad raved about Stucky's work ethic during the offseason.

Also available behind the plate are junior transfer Richard Stock and freshman Taylor Fish. Stock will provide a power left-handed bat off the bench and has two years of eligibility after playing at Southern Cal and Pierce College in Los Angeles. While at USC, Stock pulled off the rare feat of hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw in his first career at bat. Fish will learn from the veterans of the group after earning a spot on the team as a walk-on from Kearney.

Silva's Staff
With nine returning pitchers and six newcomers, new Pitching Coach Ted Silva will have a young group in 2012 that includes one senior, five juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen. While the staff brings back a majority of its weekend rotation, the biggest void is the one left in the closer role by 2011 second-team All-Big 12 performer Casey Hauptman.

Three pitchers are likely to get a shot at the job in 2012, including Tyler Niederklein, Travis Huber and Brandon Pierce. Niederklein was a weekend starter for the Huskers in 2011 and posted a 8-3 record, but Erstad likes his attitude on the mound and thinks Niederklein has the right make-up to close game. Pierce was second on the team last year in saves with two, while Huber is a hard-throwing transfer from the College of Southern Idaho. The right-handed Huber has been selected twice in the MLB Draft by the Florida Marlins.

By the time the conference season rolls around, two of the spots in the weekend rotation are likely to go to sophomore Jon Keller and junior Tom Lemke. Keller got great experience as a true freshman with 14 starts last season and was second on the team with 64.2 innings worked. Lemke, who is coming off surgery to remove a blood clot last summer, looks to have his first healthy season at Nebraska after joining the team from Northwest Christian High School in Phoenix, Ariz., where he was a 10th-round pick by the Texas Rangers.

The young bullpen will lean on the experience of junior Dylan Vogt, who worked 47.0 innings over 21 appearances last season, which was tied for second on the team. Sophomore lefty Tyler King also saw work in 21 games, with a 2.21 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 20.1 innings of work. Spots throughout the bullpen are up for grabs and should create great competition  for time on the mound.

One Field to the Other
After playing two seasons of football under Head Coach Bo Pelini, sophomore Ty Kildow will now use his talents on the baseball field at Nebraska.

Kildow joined the baseball team in the fall as a walk-on and worked his way onto the roster. Arguably the fastest player on the team, Kildow's speed will be an asset on the basepaths and in the outfield.

Kildow was a three-time first-team Super-State pick as an outfielder at Millard South High School. He hit over .400 each of his final three seasons, including a .447 average as a junior. He stole 29 bases as a senior and hit .431.

Back in Red
Along with Head Coach Darin Erstad, two other former Huskers will be putting on the Nebraska baseball jersey once again in 2012 as former players Will Bolt (1999-02) and Jeff Christy (2005-06) are part of Erstad's coaching staff.

Bolt is the Huskers' associate head coach and returned to his alma mater after serving as the head coach at Texarkana College the past four years. Bolt works with the Husker infielders and helps direct the offense, while also coaching third base.

Prior to his time at Texarkana, Bolt was a volunteer assistant at Texas A&M for two seasons after serving as a volunteer on the Huskers' 2005 College World Series Team.

As a player, Bolt was a member of then-Head Coach Dave Van Horn's first recruiting class. The Conroe, Texas, native was a four-year starter and team captain on Nebraska's 2001 and 2002 College World Series teams.

Christy returns to Nebraska as the team's volunteer assistant after working in the same position at Wichita State in 2011. One of the top catchers in program history, Christy works with the catchers and coaches first base.

After playing his first two seasons at Barton County CC, Christy caught a school-record 64 games as a junior in 2005, hitting .236 with 32 RBIs, while throwing out 45 percent of opposing runners, including 8-of-11 runners in the postseason. An honorable-mention All-Big 12 pick in 2006, Christy hit .284 with eight homers and 32 RBIs, while leading the Huskers to 42 wins and a No. 6 national seed.

Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, Christy reached Triple-A Rochester in both 2008 and 2009.

Huskers Across the Country
The 2012 Huskers hale from 11 different from all across the nation. Nebraska natives make up 12 of the 32 players on the 2012 roster, while Texas has the second most representatives at five. Other states with more than one player include, Iowa (3), Colorado (3), Arizona (2) and Kansas (2).

9-Game Package Available for Fans
Two new nine-game packages are now available for fans who want to see the Huskers' first baseball season in the Big Ten Conference under new Head Coach Darin Erstad. Named the Diamond Deal, fans can either purchase reserved tickets for nine games in the lower grandstand (sections 110 and 112) or in the Homerun Terrace (behind right field).

Fans are able to choose nine games from any of the Huskers' 31 home games in 2012. The non-conference season includes games with Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Northern Colorado, Creighton, CSU Bakersfield, Wichita State and 2011 College World Series participant California. The Huskers will open the conference season against Illinois on Friday, March 23, before also hosting Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota at Hawks Field.

Total price of the package is just $90 for either the grandstand or Homerun Terrace. Outside of season tickets, the Diamond Deal gives fans the opportunity to buy reserved tickets before single-game tickets go on sale Wednesday, March 7. For more information on season tickets or the Diamond Deal, visit Huskers.com/Tickets or call 800-8-BIG RED during business hours.

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