Field Trip: Husker Baseball Visits Loyola Marymount

The Husker Baseball team returned to Los Angeles for the first time since 2013 to take on the Loyola Marymount Lions in a three game series this past weekend.

The last (and only) time Nebraska and LMU met on the diamond was back in 1988 with the Lions going for the jugular in both games. LMU extended their winning streak over the Huskers after Friday’s match up under the lights on an evening that was about as miserable as the weather gets in LA.

Lucky for me, I could only make it to the two games the Huskers won. Or, maybe my little Buddha belly is Husker Baseball’s lucky charm? (Feel free to get at me, when the CWS rolls around.)

With StormWatch 2015 in full effect throughout the weekend, Saturday and Sunday’s games were bumped up a few hours to avoid impending weather doom.  LMU’s scenic campus is built on a bluff overlooking the Pacific and is perfectly positioned for a Day After Tomorrow kind of situation.

We courageously accepted the risk and braved a wind chill in low 60’s with possible water falling from the sky. Bad weather can’t keep us from the Huskers.

George Page Baseball Stadium
George Page Stadium, home of the LMU Lions. George left his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska at age 16 and headed to California with $2.30 in his pocket. He went on to become a very successful businessman and one of LA’s most prominent philanthropists.

PRIDE PARK LMU
Located at the entrance, Pride Park is dedicated to beloved LMU fan Grandma Cruz.

PRIDE PARK LMU 2
View of Pride Park from behind Grandma Cruz’s home plate memorial. During Sunday’s game, LMU hosted a Wiffle Ball game for kids. We thought we’d be solid ringers but didn’t get picked.

Upon entering the stadium, this is the sight that greeted us.

HUSKER BASEBALL FANS
No matter where any of the Husker teams go, fans will be there an hour early. By game time both days, the visitor’s section had swelled to a mighty Puddle of Red.

HUSKER BASEBALL
Oh, hey there, Husker Baseball. The most fascinating element of Page Stadium is the Mikos Blue Monster measuring 37 feet tall, the same height as Fenway’s Green Monster.

LMU SEASON SEATS
One neat perk for LMU season ticket holders is getting their names on their seats. Once the game started, we took it upon ourselves to check IDs to make sure no riff-raff was poaching the Gill Family’s seats.

Husker Baseball Coach Darin Erstad
Husker Baseball coach Darin Erstad exchanges line up cards with LMU Coach Jason Gill. Sorry about hassling your family for ID, bro.

Kyle Kubat delivery
Senior Kyle Kubat yielded just one run and three hits over seven innings to pick up his first win of the season on Saturday.
Photo: @JoeJanecek

Jake Schleppenbach Bunt
Lead off hitter Jake Schleppenbach was a thorn in LMU’s side all weekend but was at his thorniest laying down a sacrifice bunt attempt that ended with two Huskers scoring and him sliding into third.
Photo: @JoeJanecek

The Huskers used the bunt to their advantage both Saturday and Sunday, forcing LMU to make decisions and plays. I like that Coach Erstad seems to be aggressive when it comes to getting that first run on the board. All too often I’ve seen coaches (well, at least Joe Torre and Don Mattingly) save the small ball until it’s desperately needed. By then it’s usually too late.  The only move that didn’t pan out was a potential first run on Saturday that was snuffed out at home on a contact play.

PLAY AT THE PLATE
Sequence of the contact play that went in LMU’s favor. Even with a chopper to third, it was close play at the plate.

Random observations from someone who hasn’t seen the Huskers play since 2013, yet has attended 54 Dodger games and watched at least another 200 on the TV during that stretch:

Plate discipline: The Huskers clearly have it. On Saturday Blake Headly worked an epic at-bat (I stopped counting after the 37th pitch) into a 2 run double. The Huskers weren’t shy about swinging at the first pitch but were very selective in doing so. LMU’s pitchers really worked bottom of the strike zone and the Huskers showed restraint in laying off some very close pitches. When the count got tight, they showed a knack for making defensive contact and keeping at-bats alive.

Speed: To quote the great Vin Scully:

Once on base, the Huskers weren’t shy about turning on the jets. While I don’t recall any steals, there were several instances of extra bases being grabbed off hits and very aware base running. As soon as a player slid into base, the first order of business was finding the ball. Which leads to-

Fundamentals: All weekend long the Husker defensive moved as such a cohesive unit it was like the whole team was mentally linked up and driving a Jaeger from Pacific Rim. As soon as LMU put the ball into play, back ups flew into position. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a catcher and second baseman sprinting to back up a routine grounder from third to first. Following the Huskers’ work on bunt defense during BP on Saturday, the exact scenario played out on the field and they executed it just like they practiced. I wish there was a situation where LMU got caught in a pickle because I have a hunch the Huskers would have handled it perfectly, which would have brought tears of joy to Vin’s eyes. If there’s one thing on Earth that grates his cheese, it’s seeing a bad rundown play.

Defense: Granted, this could be the years of horror that was watching Hanley Ramirez try to play shortstop talking but Steven Reveles has such an insanely fast and smooth glove to hand transition it’s like watching a magician play baseball. From deep in the their respective corners of the outfield, Luis Alvarado and Austin Darby launched guided missile heat-seeking laser bullets to home from on Sunday. The Huskers were one loose ball away from negating both of LMU’s scoring chances.

The defensive play of the weekend belonged to LMU left fielder Billy Wilson. Immediately following Tanner Lubach‘s bomb off the top of the Blue Monster, Darby followed with a line drive shot that sent Wilson into full Superman mode, not stopping until he slid across the warning track. When the dust finally settled, Husker fans were cheering just as much as they did on Lubach’s dinger.

Overall, if the pitching can remain stout and the bats stay warm, there’s no reason why the Huskers can’t make a solid run to Omaha. The foundation is certainly there. LMU was no slouch and this weekend’s tournament in Houston will be a great test to see how the Big Red stacks up against perennial powerhouses.

Now that you made it this far, here are some highlights from the weekend. And keep on scrolling for more photos.

Huskers Batting Practice
The Huskers wore camo jerseys for batting practice on Saturday.

Husker Fans 2
The Puddle of Red cheers on the Huskers. You could figure out who the California Nebraskans were based on the amount of layers. Had the day’s weather hovered over Lincoln, shorts would have been worn and classes held outside.

LMU SOFTBALL
LMU softball played the same time as their baseball counterparts on Saturday. You can see the Blue Monster peeking out through the trees. The LMU fans I talked to were impressed by the gravitational pull of the Big Red.

Blake Headly
Blake Headly swung a hot bat all weekend.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0753.
Jake Schleppenbach proved to be a legit threat at the top of the line up and his mom proved to be a great ambassador for Husker Baseball. She introduced herself and thanked us for coming out on Sunday. We also met family of Taylor Fish, Tanner Lubach, and Steven Reveles. They were all super nice.

CHURRO
First churro of the season! A ballpark staple in LA.

Donuts
With Sunday’s first pitch at 11am, we brought a box of donuts to share with fellow Husker fans. Baseball and donuts were a great recovery from staying up until 3am on a House of Cards bender.

PREDICTION
Boldly wore my prediction for Sunday. Some real gems turn up when you search ‘Vintage Huskers’ on eBay.

GO BIG RED
Go Big Red!

LA RAIN
Sunday’s rain held off until the bottom of the ninth.

HUSKERS WIN
Huskers get the series win. Now on to the next one.

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