LINCOLN — When NU volunteer assistant Jeff Christy heard the Huskers would be meeting Texas on the baseball diamond this year, he couldn’t help but reminisce.
Christy played at Nebraska while the baseball program was peaking, which just so happened to parallel the Longhorns’ rebirth — thus, setting the stage for battles with bragging rights and championships on the line.
From 2001 to 2007, the Big 12 regular-season title went to either Nebraska or Texas (Baylor earned a share in 2005). The two powerhouses combined to make eight CWS appearances. They met head-to-head 26 times during that stretch, each team winning 13 times. Fifteen of those games were decided by two runs or fewer.
“I saw (this year’s) schedule and obviously, you start to think about what those games meant and how you played in them,” said Christy, an NU catcher in 2005 and 2006.
But Christy won’t get nostalgic for too long. Neither will assistant Will Bolt, a Husker from 1999 to 2002. Same goes for Curtis Ledbetter, Nebraska’s director of baseball operations and an NU player from 2002 to 2005.
They know that does little to help Nebraska’s new goal now. The Huskers haven’t made an NCAA regional since 2008. They’ve lost all four of their games to start 2013.
But coach Darin Erstad believes a series like this weekend’s three-game set at Texas — a rekindling of a storied Big 12 rivalry — helps remold the players’ mentality within this rebuilding NU program.
“We are going to challenge our guys and they are going to have to learn how to play in those situations,” Erstad said. “And this is another great opportunity for them to do that.”
The Longhorns aren’t as dominant as they used to be, either.
Texas missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1998. Veteran UT assistant Tommy Harmon was let go in the aftermath.
This year’s Longhorns (3-1) were picked to finish third in the Big 12.
But Texas’ sudden slump won’t dampen the enthusiasm within Nebraska’s clubhouse.
Senior outfielder Rich Sanguinetti, one of five native Texans on the Huskers’ roster, expects at least seven family members to be in the stands this weekend.
“Growing up you hear about all the traditions of being a Longhorn,” said Sanguinetti, who’s from Arlington, Texas. “To be able to play there, that will be a lot of fun.”
Senior reliever Dylan Vogt said nearly a month ago that this matchup against Texas was something “that I circled on the calendar.”
Sophomore catcher Tanner Lubach, out of Lincoln Southwest, used to make sure that he never missed a Texas-Nebraska series growing up.
“Going down to play there is going to be something,” he said.
And the former Huskers on the NU coaching staff will presumably carry an extra helping of competitiveness the moment they step into the dugout in Austin, too.
“As a player, you’d always like to go into those games thinking it was just another series. But it wasn’t,” Ledbetter said. “It was always a battle.”
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