Answers Hard to Find During Lost Season

Huskers Stumbled Out of Gate and Never Recovered

By Mike Malloy

Before a late-season series at Illinois – and the long bus ride that preceded it – Husker baseball players gathered at Hawks Field, many with a rolling suitcase in one hand and a pillow in the other. A press conference with coach Will Bolt and three players was held prior to departure. The group dutifully answered all questions, but there was really only one that has been on everyone’s mind: What happened this season?

“I wish there were happier questions,” sophomore third baseman Max Anderson said.

The answers have been clear – poor hitting, ill-timed errors and an inability to win close games – but solutions have been elusive the past few months as Nebraska went from an NCAA Tournament team in 2021 to one wondering if it will make the Big Ten Tournament in 2022. As Huskers Illustrated went to print, Nebraska was 20-29 overall and tied for ninth in the Big Ten at 8-13 with one conference series remaining. The top eight teams qualify for the league tournament.

Griffen Everitt and Garrett Anglim celebrate Anglim’s home run against nonconference opponent Oral Roberts.
Griffen Everitt and Garrett Anglim celebrate Anglim’s home run against nonconference opponent Oral Roberts.

The Huskers pushed No. 1 Arkansas to a regional final before being knocked out of last year’s NCAA tournament. Following the loss, Bolt talked about the importance of following up on a strong season.

“I think the future is certainly bright and the seniors and the upperclassmen have built a pretty solid foundation for what’s to come,” Bolt said.

That foundation is showing cracks 12 months later. Nebraska went from first to last in the Big Ten in batting average, and after being held to three or fewer runs 10 times a year ago, Nebraska has had 20 such games this season. Nebraska is also last in the league in slugging percentage and 10th in runs per game.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Bolt said. “We’ve gotten off to good starts in games but haven’t finished it.”

For some coaches, that would be a throwaway line but it’s the truth. Prior to the season-ending series against Michigan State, Nebraska had played 26 games decided by one or two runs, winning eight.

Max Anderson and Core Jackson shake hands after their 9-5 win over Oral Roberts on May 17.
Max Anderson and Core Jackson shake hands after their 9-5 win over Oral Roberts on May 17.

Despite the offensive woes, Bolt first referenced defense as an explanation for why his team has come up just short so many times. Nebraska is ninth in the league in fielding percentage (it topped the conference in ’21), but Bolt said it’s not so much how many errors as when they’ve occurred.

“Other teams are making throws to throw us out at the plate and we’re making errors to extend innings,” Bolt said.

His words were prophetic a few days later in a 5-4 loss May 15 against Illinois. Colby Gomes’ grand slam gave the Huskers an early 4-0 lead, but Illinois scored in each of the last four innings to rally. The winning run crossed in the bottom of the ninth on an error.

Pitching has been strong despite a rash of injuries. Twenty pitchers have been used this year including nine starters. Last year, five Huskers started games with Cade Povich (15 starts), Chance Hroch (14), and Shay Schanaman (12) providing a consistent weekend rotation. Schanaman moved into the Friday slot this season after Povich and Hroch moved on, but after that it was often anyone’s guess as the Huskers entered several Big Ten series with the dreaded “TBA” appearing where a starting pitcher’s name should in school-issued press releases.

“That’s how our team was built – from the back of the bullpen to the front. We knew we had some depth. When you lose as many guys as we’ve lost it’s difficult to think that you could be competitive and we have done that because we have had some guys step up,” Bolt said. “Having that depth has allowed us to at least be competitive.”

The term “everyday lineup” has also been a misnomer as only Anderson and senior catcher Griffin Everitt have started every game; 15 Huskers had at least eight offensive starts. Anderson, the 2021 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has put up a respectable .285 average this season, though that was a drop from last season’s .332. Freshman outfielder Garrett Anglim leads the team in hitting at .302 – the only Husker hitting above .300.

Right-hander Dawson McCarville took the mound against Oral Roberts.
Right-hander Dawson McCarville took the mound against Oral Roberts.

Things went wrong immediately this spring as Nebraska lost three of four to Sam Houston, then fell to 1-6 after being swept in three games at TCU. The Huskers were 4-9 before conference play started, a mark that included a series loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In conference, Nebraska won just one series prior to the season finale against Michigan State.

“This season hasn’t gone the way anyone wanted it to, or expected it to,” Everitt said, repeating words often said with slight variation this season.
Anderson, Bolt and others assured that it hasn’t been a lack of effort. So why did the season play out the way it did? Maybe that’s a question that can’t be answered.

“It’s definitely not (a lack of) talent,” Anderson said. “It’s so hard to tell in baseball.”

Program Changer

Could Carl Crawford Have Saved Frank Solich’s Job at Nebraska?

Story by Shane G. Gilster

It was Feb. 7, 1999, and Nebraska had just signed its future star quarterback, Carl Crawford.

The Huskers were already established at quarterback with returning starters in junior Bobby Newcombe and sophomore Eric Crouch. But Crawford was the heir apparent and, with a redshirt year, he would likely be a two-year starter for NU in 2002 and 2003.

basketball and baseball. In football, “he was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete,” said his high school baseball coach, Gerald Garcia.
Carl Crawford did it all at Houston’s Jefferson Davis High School, playing football, basketball and baseball. In football, “he was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete,” said his high school baseball coach, Gerald Garcia.

“Crawford would have been a perfect fit for us,” NU coach Frank Solich said, according to published reports from that time. “He’d have been like Eric Crouch, and Eric ended up winning the Heisman. I think he’d have hit the ground running for us and picked up right where Eric left off.”

As a senior at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Crawford ran the option offense for head coach Chuck Arnold. He had 1,213 yards rushing and 19 scores while passing for another eight touchdowns. Twenty of his carries were of 50 yards or more, which showed his speed and game-breaking ability.

“Our third-and-long play was for Carl to drop back and if the cornerback doesn’t fall down, then run it. (Crawford) wasn’t a bad passer, but we didn’t have a lot of receivers, so all our pass plays were play action. He had a good, quick release, but all we had was a couple good running backs and Carl. Also, our offensive line was small, weighing under 180 pounds per player,” Arnold said.

Saying that Jefferson Davis High School wasn’t known for football was an understatement. Before Arnold arrived, the school hadn’t won a game in six years.

“We had small football teams; we struggled to keep 30 kids on the team,” Arnold said. “When I came to Jefferson Davis, it took me three years to win one game. Carl was in the sixth year I was there and we had a winning record each year with him.”

Solich, then in his first year as head coach at Nebraska, saw Crawford as a perfect fit for his offense. Solich, along with quarterback coach Turner Gill, went all out recruiting the talented athlete who was courted by colleges to play baseball, basketball and football.

“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Nebraska football coach Frank Solich said of Crawford. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”
“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Nebraska football coach Frank Solich said of Crawford. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”

“Back then Nebraska was nationally known and was on TV a lot,” Arnold said. “Everybody knew that Carl was being recruited by them. I remember the Nebraska coaches coming to our school in a helicopter and landing on the football field.”

The Huskers’ main competition for Crawford’s services wasn’t another college. Crawford also loved baseball and had pro scouts flocking to Houston.

“Playing another sport at a high level was leverage for Carl because (Major League Baseball) had to come up with a big paycheck to get him from playing football at Nebraska,” Arnold said. “If he didn’t get the money he was looking for, I think he would have ended up at Nebraska. Teams were worried about drafting him because he had already signed with Nebraska, but we told them if they came up with the money, Carl would sign to play baseball.”

Gerald Garcia, Crawford’s high school baseball coach, had no doubt his star player would choose baseball. Garcia said Crawford was a natural but needed some coaching in order for his potential to blossom.

“When you get a kid that good, coaches don’t want to screw him up,” Garcia said. “But our coaches taught him a nice little work ethic. That kid became a working machine and always wanted extra batting practice and (to catch) fly balls. Some guys have the God-given talent and don’t work, but he worked at it.”

Crawford grew up as a first baseman, but Garcia told him he was going to play outfield because of his speed. Crawford was left-handed and when he would hit a routine ground ball, Garcia said he would beat the throw to first base about 90% of the time.
Nebraska offered Crawford the chance to play both baseball and football.

“Our baseball program was very strong and the idea (playing both sports) appealed to him and his family,” Solich said at the time. “They were looking at him getting his education, but we knew the draft was looming large.”

Garcia helped counsel Crawford on whether to play college football and baseball or get a paycheck from professional baseball. A main factor in Crawford’s decision was that he came from a low-income neighborhood and his mother was the sole provider for him and his brother.

“It came down to making money with baseball or being a crash dummy and getting hit in football,” Garcia said. “Carl was an action guy and really loved football. He was a read-option quarterback and would have fit in nicely at Nebraska. He was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete. The MLB scouts would come to my office and ask if Carl was using football as a gambling chip, but I told them he was going to play professional baseball.”

But Solich still had hope his quarterback recruit would choose football. After Crawford signed his letter of intent, the Husker coaching staff had to patiently wait until the baseball draft in June to see what Crawford would do.

Unfortunately for NU, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays nabbed Crawford in the second round and 52nd overall in the 1999 draft. They offered a signing bonus of $1.2 million, and Solich lost his quarterback.

“It made sense to go through the effort to recruit him, have him verbally commit, and sign with us,” Solich said in the aftermath of the decision. “But that all became moot when he signed the baseball contract. He really loved the sport of football and was committed to coming to Nebraska, but that amount of money … I don’t know who would pass that up.”
Losing a recruit isn’t anything new to colleges like Nebraska. But for Solich, not having Crawford take over at quarterback after Crouch in 2002 had bigger repercussions for him and his football program.
Nebraska went 7-7 in 2002 and even though the Huskers finished 9-3 in 2003, Solich was fired before the bowl game. Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson said he felt the Huskers were gravitating toward mediocrity, thus the reason for the coaching change.
“If he (Crawford) would have gone to Nebraska, Frank Solich wouldn’t have gotten fired at Nebraska,” Garcia said. “Carl was that good of a player. He could have saved Solich’s job.”

It is purely hypothetical what Crawford would have done at Nebraska, but looking back, it’s hard to argue with his choice.
Crawford was only 20 years old when he made his major league debut in July of 2002 and from there had a 15-year career. He was a four-time All-Star, led the American League in steals and triples four times and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
Crawford had the talent, but his competitive nature gave him the “It” factor that made him elite.

Crawford made his major league debut at age 20 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He played in the majors for 15 years and was a four-time All-Star.
Crawford made his major league debut at age 20 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He played in the majors for 15 years and was a four-time All-Star.

“He always wanted to win,” Garcia said. “He was just a competitive son of a gun.”

Since his retirement from baseball in 2016, Crawford is still revered in his Houston community. His high school, now called Northside, held a ceremony in June 2021 to rename its baseball field “Carl Crawford Field.”

Crawford is now the CEO of 1501 Certified Entertainment, an independent record label based in his hometown. He called into radio station 97.9 The Box during the “Good Morning H-Town” radio show when the topic of the greatest prep athlete to come from Houston was raised.

“I go down in history, I think,” said Crawford, who made it clear who he feels was the best. “I’m the only athlete that made All-Texas teams in every sport. Football, basketball and baseball. I didn’t even play basketball my senior year to focus on baseball, but I played all three sports at a high level.”

Arnold, who coached at Jefferson Davis for 23 years and 43 years overall in the Houston area, said without a doubt that Crawford was the No. 1 player he ever coached.

“You don’t get those pro-caliber athletes in a lower-income, inner-city high school,” he said. “I coached at Madison High School while (Texas quarterback) Vince Young was there. Vince was a lot taller, but Carl was a better overall athlete.”

Garcia agreed with Arnold. He never coached a talent equal to Crawford, either. “I used to kid him and say I was going to take him to Galveston and see if he could surf because he was such a great athlete,” Garcia said. “He could do anything.”

It’s just too bad for Husker fans that Crawford didn’t get to showcase his talent in the scarlet and cream.

“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Solich said. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”

Ted’s Takes

Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Jim Hartung peforms on the rings during a meet at the Devaney Center during the 1981 season.
2020 03 31 001
Nebraska’s Carl McPipe shoots over Kansas center Paul Mokeski at the Devaney Center during a 62-58 win over the Jayhawks in 1978.

Bolt Has a Loaded Deck

Depth and Starting Pitching Are on Huskers’ Side

Story by Steve Beideck • Photos by Amarillo Mullen

An experienced pitching staff and no 2022 recruits electing to turn pro are two big reasons for optimism about the upcoming Nebraska baseball season.

Left-hander Kyle Perry returns after Tommy John surgery.
Left-hander Kyle Perry returns after Tommy John surgery.

There are plenty of other signs that point to a successful campaign, but third-year Huskers coach Will Bolt said those two elements don’t occur as often as coaches would like.

“This is my first year since being here that we have a strong number of third- and fourth-year pitchers, guys who have been in the fire and have quite a bit of experience,” Bolt said. “With a bit of a shift in the roster dynamic, that’s a nice advantage to have.”

Nebraska has a large group of first-year players, including three in the signing class unveiled in November who are ranked among the nation’s top 200 recruits.

With the bumper crop of newcomers vying for playing time, an experienced pitching staff will give potential new starters a chance to settle in as the season progresses for the Huskers, ranked as high as No. 22 in the preseason.

Among experienced hurlers vying for extended playing time are juniors Braxton Bragg (Liberty. Missouri), Texas A&M transfer Mason Ornelas and Colby Gomes out of Millard West. Others include seniors Koty Frank (Tushka, Oklahoma), Shay Schanaman of Grand Island and Kyle Perry of Millard South, who returns after missing the 2021 season for Tommy John surgery.

Right-hander Braxton Bragg is part of a deep staff.
Right-hander Braxton Bragg is part of a deep staff.

The Huskers lost all four captains from the 2021 team that played in an NCAA Regional championship game for the first time since 2007 and won the Big Ten championship by 3.5 games.

“Getting all of our signees to campus helped to build some of the general excitement for this season,” Bolt said. “Any good team I’ve been a part of has that healthy competition. There will be a lot of competition with a lot of talented freshmen.”

The 2021 recruiting class, a larger-than-normal group for the Huskers, was ranked No. 20 by Perfect Game and No. 36 by Collegiate Baseball. While Bolt and his staff don’t put a lot of stock in those ratings, he said the plan was for a big class for the 2022 campaign.

“This class was larger by design,” Bolt said of the 10 signees. “It’s larger than you’re going to see us typically take. There was some initial roster turnover then departures when we got here. Sometimes you get more credit in the ratings with the size of your class.

Husker baseball right-hander Koty Frank.
Husker baseball right-hander Koty Frank.

“What it means to us is my assistant coaches have done a good job evaluating strong talent, telling kids what the University of Nebraska experience has to offer. It also shows sustainable success in your program.”

Bolt could already see the blending of veterans and first-year players taking shape during the fall season. He expects the “never-be-satisfied” mentality that took hold during the first semester to continue driving the team, beginning with a four-game series in Huntsville, Texas, Feb. 18-20 at Sam Houston State.

Only two starters from the ’21 squad that finished the season 34-14 appear to be entrenched at their positions. Third baseman Max Anderson hit .332 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs.

The Millard West graduate also was named a freshman All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Max Anderson looks to hold down his spot at third base.
Max Anderson looks to hold down his spot at third base.

“Having a full calendar year under his belt playing a position he’s never played before is big,” Bolt said. “He’s a nice anchor to have on that corner.”

Bolt said senior catcher Griffin Everitt has emerged as a vocal leader. He’s also happy with the depth that’s being built behind the Lincoln Southwest and Kansas City Kansas Community College graduate.

Sophomore Jack Steil from Cold Spring, Minnesota, is back at first base while another second-year player, Brice Matthews, could be moved this season to play shortstop. Matthews, from Humble, Texas, was selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and also was named to the NCAA All-Fayetteville Region team.