When UNO and Creighton last met, it was arguably the high point of the Mavericks’ season.
Not only was UNO coming off four wins in six games, it went out March 27 and upset the Bluejays 3-2, followed it up the next night with a 3-1 win at Iowa, and then headed on to face a weaker future Summit League rival in Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
But the Mavs were swept in Fort Wayne, starting a 3-19 tailspin heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. season finale with Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I think we were feeling pretty good about ourselves back then,” UNO second baseman Caleb Palensky said. “It was nice to play a game in Nebraska for once, and then we played somewhat close to home at Iowa. But once we got back on the bus to go to Indiana, it was kind of a feeling of, ‘Here we go again.’”
Palensky admits that at first glance, UNO’s first-ever Division I schedule looked like fun. Forty-two of the 48 games were outside the metropolitan area because of the difficulty in getting Division I teams to play road games against a transitioning team such as UNO. What could be more fun, though, than to travel the country and play baseball?
With the season ending Wednesday, the sophomore is looking forward to next season, when the Mavs will have home games once again.
“It’s going to help us a lot,” Palensky said. “Ever since we came back from Florida (in mid-March), we’ll be on the bus for an hour and we’ll start wondering when we’re going to get off it.
“We never really got into a routine this year, which is a bummer for us because as baseball players, we’re all about routines.”
UNO coach Bob Herold knew the grind of being on the road every weekend would take its toll on his team. But what he didn’t expect were the number of significant, season-ending injuries that have often forced the Mavs to field several pitchers in the everyday lineup.
One key defensive play, one baserunning mistake or a lack of execution here or there sometimes had a more significant effect than the reduction of firepower in the batting order.
Herold also is concerned that a program that was highly competitive in Division II might have lost a bit of its edge in Division I.
UNO (12-35) has lost eight times by one run and is 6-15 in games decided by three runs or less.
“We lost our culture a bit,” Herold said. “We’re used to winning, but that’s pretty fragile. The first order of business for next year is to rebuild that. It’s not for lack of trying. No one has put his head down. And next year hopefully we’ll have a bunch of guys back with healthy arms and healthy legs.
“But when you lose 35 games, you start thinking that you can play pretty well and still lose. It took us a long time to get away from that (as a Division II program), and we’ve got a lot of young guys in our program this year who have seen us lose a lot of games, and that’s no good for them.”
Herold and Palensky said they are confident UNO will bounce back next season when veteran players return, new recruits are added and the season isn’t an endless road trip.
“Whether we’ll win (the Summit League) next year I don’t know, but I do think we’ll be competitive,” Herold said. “That’s a bold statement coming from a guy who’s only won 12 games, but if you think anything else you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball. The day I stop thinking we’ll be able to compete is the day it’s time to hang them up.”
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