Up for the Power 5 challenge

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1522

Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Chris Esposito has played a big part in the Maverick offense that has led Omaha to wins over Power 5 schools No. 22 Oklahoma and Missouri. Through six games, Esposito leads the Mavericks with a .400 avg, three home runs, and 11 RBI. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

There’s no denying expectations have been high around this Omaha baseball team, but Evan Porter and the Mavericks couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the 2021 season.

After having their season-opening series at Oregon canceled, the Mavericks scrambled and picked up two games against No. 22 Oklahoma in Norman. One of those resulted in a win. Later that week, the Mavericks left Columbia, Missouri with a split against the Tigers.

“It always helps being rewarded for the hard work that you put in,” Porter said. “Our team has certainly put a lot of work in over the last few years, so it’s nice to see the results. I think the big thing with this year though is we just feel very fortunate to be playing baseball.

“We’re not going to take being back out on the field for granted, so we were happy to be getting those games in at Oklahoma. Nice to come out with a win on top of it.”

The opening day win over the Sooners was the first over a ranked opponent in the Division I era of the Omaha program. Less than a week later, the Mavericks took two of the four games at Missouri. The first win over the Tigers marked Omaha’s first win over an SEC opponent in program history.

Now they’ll look to build on them heading into the rest of the season.

“It’s nice to get the end result, but in all of these games we’ve told our guys afterwards that the result isn’t the main focus right now early in the season,” Porter said. “It’s about getting innings in and getting the feet wet for some new guys.

“Everyone has done a good job of going out and taking care of business, but we’re not approaching any game differently. No matter who we’re playing, we’re just focusing on playing like we can.”

On top of worrying about the play on the field, everyone in college baseball is dealing with added challenges this season, but especially teams in the midwest. The spring weather can be difficult enough as it is, but with COVID testing on top of it, flexibility is more important than ever.

Omaha’s second series of the season was initially supposed to in California, but that changed in the weeks leading up to the season. Porter and his staff were able to replace them with the four games at Missouri, but they know it’s something they’ll be dealing with all season.

“It was something we talked about with our team about how there’s going to be a lot of different challenges this season,” Porter said. “We had a good reminder right off the bat that things could change pretty quickly. We’re trying to make sure we get in every game this year that we can, because we feel we owe it to our team. Especially our seniors.”

Now that the Mavericks have made it through the majority of their non-conference slate and have opened up their new home at Tal Anderson Field, the focus shifts to Summit League play. At the same time, they’ve proven they can compete with anyone so far with the early wins over quality opponents.

“I think playing some of these better teams early on will only help us prepare for conference play,” Porter said. “We’ve had some great opponents the first two weekends and now Creighton and Kansas, but we’re taking it day-by-day right now. We’re just focusing on finishing these last few games strong and getting ready for Summit League play.”

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