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Huskers Retooled for 2008 Season

By NU Athletic Communications
Sophomore DJ Belfonte returns to ignite the top of the Husker lineup.
Sophomore DJ Belfonte returns to ignite the top of the Husker lineup.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Potential. Promise. Proven
These three words sum up the hopes of the 2008 Nebraska baseball season.

In 2007, the Huskers rebounded from a slow start to win five of their last six Big 12 series and eventually reach the finals of the NCAA Tempe Regional. From that team, eight players were chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft, reshaping the program as it begins a new season.

The 2008 Huskers return six everyday starters from a team that won 32 games and placed fourth in the Big 12 Conference a year ago.

“We have some experience on the position player side, and we have a couple of veteran pitchers,” Head Coach Mike Anderson said. “The biggest thing is the development potential of our pitching staff.  As we get going, our pitching staff has to come along with this team.”

The Huskers will be tested by facing a schedule that features 27 games against NCAA Regional qualifiers from last season, as well as a season-opening trip to traditional power Stanford.

A quick scan at the roster requires a double take, as 15 new players are listed on the 2008 squad. In addition, five others redshirted last spring, making a total of 20 players on a 34-man roster who have yet to play their first game as a Husker.
“I like our talent, but we are going to be young in spots,” Anderson said.

Nebraska’s incoming class is a talented mix of freshmen and transfers. Eight of the nine freshmen pitchers were first-team all-state selections last season, while six transfers, including Division I additions Cody Neer (Florida) and Joe Hatasaki (Arizona State) provide a veteran presence.

“There are opportunities for newcomers to make an impact for us on the mound,” Pitching Coach Eric Newman said. “We are going to rely on our freshmen to pitch some big innings for us.”

One of the benefits of the Huskers’ stretch run a year ago was the development of players who will be counted on this season.

It is evident on offense, as the Huskers retooled their lineup last season and started  a quartet of first-year players including catcher Mitch Abeita, infielder Craig Corriston, designated hitter Jeff Tezak and outfielder DJ Belfonte. Three of the four hit over .300 in their first season, including Tezak, who earned second-team All-Big 12 honors, and Belfonte, who ranked first or second in seven offensive categories as a true freshman.

On the mound, Dan Jennings and Thad Weber developed into key components of the Husker relief corps, and could both move into new roles in the weekend rotation this spring.

The final ingredient to the puzzle is to have consistent production from the veterans. The 2008 Huskers feature a trio of three-year letterwinners who will be counted on for production and leadership this spring.

Johnny Dorn, Bryce Nimmo and Jake Opitz played significant roles on Nebraska’s 2005 College World Series team and have started the past two years. Dorn, a three-time All-Big 12 pick, has won 31 games in his Husker career, while Nimmo and Opitz both have well over 100 starts in the scarlet and cream in center field and second base, respectively. More importantly, their leadership is essential in shepherding their teammates through the first two stages to help the Huskers reach their goal.

Postseason Play.

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