By Nate Tenopir, Editor-in-Chief
The bats came alive, the pitching came through and the first full weekend of Summit League competition ended with UNO sitting atop the conference. A double-header sweep of Fort Wayne on Friday and Oakland on Sunday left the Mavs 4-0 in the league, two games ahead of their closest competitor.
“We’re building as a team, UNO first baseman Alex Mortensen said. “Initially we didn’t exactly play to the best of our ability. Now we’re playing hard every pitch, every out and its paying off. We’re getting a couple more wins than we did earlier.”
Coming into the weekend the Mavs were just 6-15. But after a turbulent start to the season where the schedule was in doubt seemingly every day, it would be hard to blame UNO for getting out of the gate a little slowly.
The bizarre start to the season began with the Mavs getting on the field two weeks after most teams had already started their season. Two weeks later a road series at Iowa was moved to Wichita.
Three days after that, a home series with Northern Colorado had to be moved to Colorado Springs when Omaha was unable to provide playable weather. Through the first month of the season UNO had already played 15 games on the road and spent almost three weeks on the bus and in random hotels scattered across the Midwest.
Despite those hardships Head Coach Bob Herold said his guys never gave up.
“The thing I notice is these guys, a lot of times when you start losing, guys start playing for themselves,” Herold said. “These guys though, they didn’t do it, they stayed right with each other. They were pulling for each other.”
Sticking together and coming through all that early-season adversity may be the major reason behind the weekend’s 6-3, 2-0 sweep of Fort Wayne and 7-0, 7-4 sweep of Oakland. Coming into the two series the Mavs were hitting just .234 and had driven in only 79 runs.
But against the Mastodons and Golden Grizzlies, UNO averaged .342 at the plate and knocked in 20. Second baseman Connor Messinger nearly doubled the Mavs’ home run total when he went deep twice in Friday’s 6-3 win.
“I was just looking for good pitches to hit and I put some good swings on them,” Messinger said about his 3-for-3, five-RBI performance. The wind was blowing out, so that helped.”
On the mound UNO pitching was even more dominant. In four games, Maverick pitchers held the opponent to .234 hitting, walked only six, struck out 29 and put up an impressive 1.69 ERA.
Starter Matt Tew (1-4) came through with the gem of the weekend, shutting down Oakland in a one-hit, complete-game 7-0 win in the first game of Sunday’s double header. Tew started off perfect the first four innings on his way to recording a season-high seven strikeouts to go with just one walk.
“This weekend hitting-wise we attacked, we got a lot of hits which gave us confidence,” Mortensen said. “We got early runs, which gave us confidence, too. And our pitchers just gave it to them and shoved it down their throat.”
After averaging over 10 hits and an ERA of 5.76, UNO pitchers gave up just 29 hits and six earned runs. Zach Williamsen, Sam Murphy, and Derek Landis combined for the other shutout of the weekend, a 2-0 win to sweep Fort Wayne Friday afternoon.
Williamsen went five, striking out six while walking just one. Murphy threw two innings allowing just one hit.
Landis picked up his first save of the season, pitching two innings, striking out two and walking none.
“We’ve been trying to make a few adjustments,” Herold said. “We weren’t picking up the ball real well, we were walking too many guys, and this weekend the guys did great. They didn’t walk guys, they made the other team hit, we did well fielding and then we got enough runs.”
Before the series against Fort Wayne and Oakland, the Mavs averaged almost four walks per game. Opponents had connected for 60 extra-base hits and 11 homeruns.
Over the weekend UNO pitching surrendered just three doubles and a lone homerun.
“It’s consistency on defense, that’s what it always is,” Herold said. “If your guys are consistently throwing the ball over the plate and the other guys are consistently picking them up you’re gonna be in probably every game.”
The strong four-game set has the Mavs in a position most didn’t expect from them coming into 2013. Out of six conference schools, UNO was picked to finish sixth.
The four-game win streak makes the Mavs the only undefeated team in conference play.
Mortensen said some of the players found it somewhat funny they could go from the bottom to the top in just a few days. But it’s also the source of some inspiration.
Being expected to finish last can put a pretty big chip on your shoulder.
“We’re gonna come out and prove we’re a better team than we’ve been playing the last couple games,” Mortensen said. “Now that we played good this weekend we’re just gonna keep it rolling.”
Thus, the rest of The Summit League may want to take notice. UNO feels its just starting to hit its stride.
Thanks to the early season adversity, the Mavs feel like they’ve been given the proper perspective to deal with both failure and success.
“Our pitching was good for us,” Messinger said. “A weekend like this, it shows you the potential of what we can do. We definitely think that’s how we should play every time we set foot on the field.”