By Nick Beaulieu, Sports Editor
A transition to Division-1 typically is a hard time for a program- try telling that to the University of Nebraska at Omaha baseball team. Coming off their 20-6 conference record and summit league conference regular season championship the Mavs wrapped up their Fall Ball, red/grey series as they approach the winter months between the spring season. If there’s one word to tag the team’s mindset right now, it’d be “confident.”
“Very confident. This red/grey series has really shown a lot about a lot of players I think a lot of new guys and a lot of returners,” said Clayton Taylor, junior and 2013 All-American. “Really I think we’re right where we need to be. Moving into the season I’m excited and the team’s looking good.”
The red/grey season is a series of scrimmages that the team has against each other, using the fall season to stay fresh and put in work that can make a difference when spring rolls around.
“We’ve got a pretty good jump on last year’s team, we’re trying to replace some pretty big bats but it looks like our pitching is pretty good again, so if we can kind of just keep that going these guys are doing the intra-battling to see who can compete for a spot,” said Bob Herold, head coach. “So we’re happy the way it’s going. Great fall.”
Last season, the Mavs got off to a rough start despite finishing successfully, sitting at 7-16 before conference play started. This upcoming season the Mavs face non-conference competition of similar and more strength when they enter the Snowbird Classic Tournament in Florida come February.
“I think just looking at the schedule for this year it’s a little more competitive than last year, especially at the start of the year traveling a little bit more than we did last year,” said Alex Shultz, sophomore. “We have high expectations for us but that doesn’t mean we can’t be working hard everyday.”
Shultz is just one of the many young players to play for the Mavs. Unlike last season the Mavs no longer have open tryouts, keeping a lot of the same squad from last season.
“I think we’re going to be a really tight knit group this spring,” Shultz said.
In a city and state synonymous with baseball because of the College World Series, as well as teams like Creighton and Nebraska being competitive, UNO’s emergence into the D-1 baseball scene is something that the team has really gotten behind.
“We recruit all over the country, but we start right here. Omaha has a lot of really good players, and it’s shown. We’ve sent a whole bunch of Omaha guys off into professional baseball, we just want to get as many of the good local guys as we can,” Herold said. “The reason we like to get local guys is they’re also invested. Mom and dad are coming, their buddies know about it, it counts a little bit more to those guys.”
Taylor, who comes from Mount Michael Benedictine, in the outskirts of Omaha in Elkhorn, feels the same way.
“It feels great. Our goal is to be the best team in Nebraska; I know a lot of guys come out with the attitude that beating Creighton and beating Nebraska comes out at the top of our list,” Taylor said. “I think we kind of proved that we are a force to be reckoned with in Omaha. e’re still looking to put our foothold down as a significant Division-1 program.”
Fall Ball provides the Mavs with a chance to work on particular aspects of baseball that can then be applied into the regular season.
“We work a lot on base running in fall ball and I think that’s part of the game that a lot of teams don’t work on as much,” Taylor said. “We’re looking to bring an aggressive attitude on the base path into the regular season that the coaches try to hit home on.”
Herold added it’s a good time to experiment with different guys at different spots.
“We make a big point of competing with every guy for your spot no matter where it is so we don’t plug them into the same place every day. So third baseman will play third one day, short one day one day second the other even though he may have a leg up on a guy on third you’re trying to see which guy will be able to compete,” Herold said. “For me I’m not trying to put square pegs in round holes but I can make a guy play more than one position and it makes us a little more well-rounded.”
The Mavs believe they can repeat last year’s success, especially now that they have a full season under their belt.
“I think if we put our energy towards the right thing and work hard every day we can really take some huge strides, and be very competitive not only in conference but non-conference schedule this spring,” Shultz said.
The Summit League regular season champs are ready to take charge in their second year in the conference. Taylor said he thinks they’re as good as anyone.
“[We’re] as dangerous as any, I think we have the talent, great coaching staff and I think we can play with anyone this year I think a lot of questions will be answered by this season.”