A Big Ten title was assumed. Taking six seasons to finally snatch the trophy, not so much.
“I mean, I’m worried about playing good baseball,” Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Darin Erstad said on a conference call Monday, just a few days after his Big Red sewed up their first league title — of any kind — since 2005 and the No. 1 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament. “I thought we played well enough to have the opportunity [to win it] last year. A couple years before that, I thought we played pretty well.”
With that, Erstad laughed.
“Indiana was pretty good. Some things happened,” he continued. “We were ninth in the Big 12 when we took them over. Obviously, that hasn’t translated to the Big Ten.”
It did, but sometimes in rather frustrating fashion. Over his first five seasons as the head man at his alma mater, only a few years removed from a stellar Major League Baseball career, Erstad steered the Huskers to three second-place regular-season finishes.
In 2013 and 2014, the Big Red wound up bridesmaids to the Hoosiers in both the regular season and the league tournament.
“You look at Purdue, look at Indiana, look at Illinois, there’ve been some tremendous teams,” Erstad said of the Big Ten, which the Huskers joined in the 2011-2012 school year, a move that coincided with the coach’s first season at the helm.
“And to see the depth of the conference from the time that we’ve gotten here to now …. [you’re] seeing multiple [teams in] regionals. That just doesn’t happen, historically, in the Big Ten, to see where we have multiple teams make regionals — and I would anticipate we’ll have multiple teams in regionals [next month] as well.”
The Huskers won the 2017 league crown on percentage points with a 16-7-1 mark. Michigan was 16-8-0, which meant the Big Red’s 2-2 tie at Indiana after 11 innings on April 2 — the game was a getaway Sunday in Bloomington and stopped after 3:20 p.m. local time — ultimately proved to be the difference in the race.
So thank you, travel curfew.
You funky little quirk, you.
“I don’t compare teams; every year is a different year,” Erstad said. “Every team is going to have a little bit different identity and makeup. We were close a few years with some second places … last year, we swept Indiana the last weekend to get within a half-game [of first-place Minnesota]. This year, we were on the good side of it.”
“This particular team … regardless of whether things are going well or things are going bad, they just keep grinding it out. They’re totally committed to the pitch. Then they go out and get to the next pitch. They don’t let things snowball. They’ve been doing a good job of that throughout the course of the season.”
When the Big Red grind, they grind.
And when they party, brother …
Bring that trophy back @Husker_Baseball!
— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) May 20, 2017
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FEELING!
— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) May 20, 2017
“Just seeing their faces and looking at their eyes in the locker room and the joy that they had, I’m excited they got to experience that,” Erstad said of the shower at Penn State on Saturday. “Because they all have that moment for the rest of their lives, together. This is a group that will have that 10 years from now, 20 years from now.”
Now the fun part: Getting them back down to earth before first pitch on Wednesday in Bloomington. Nebraska (34-18-1) opens tourney play at 5 p.m. ET against eighth-seeded Purdue (29-25-0).
“That feeling is great, but how do we get back to business?” Erstad said. “We’ve started that process. We’ll get there, for sure.”