LINCOLN — The baseball disappeared behind the right-field wall, and senior Michael Pritchard rounded first base with every intention to savor his first unimpeded trot around the diamond.
After 516 career at-bats as a Husker, he finally had his home run.
He’d adjusted his swing during the summer for a moment like this. He’d devoted an hour nearly every day this month to his mechanics under the watch of assistant coach Will Bolt. He’s been laughing off the jokes from teammates for years.
Yet something wasn’t right on Sunday.
“It was kind of an empty feeling,” Pritchard said. “I hit that home run. I was sitting there. I was happy for about 10 seconds, and I realized we were down 5-1 and it really didn’t matter that much.”
Just get the win. That’s Pritchard’s objective. Nothing more.
So there’s no need to bring up the solo shot that sparked an unsuccessful rally in a 5-3 loss to Gonzaga, or the four other extra-base hits the left-hander had while Nebraska went 2-2 on its opening weekend.
Forget that he’s the first player in NU history to record two separate hitting streaks of 20-plus games — and that he’s failed to get at least one hit in just 12 games since becoming a full-time starter in 2012.
Pritchard takes a 46-game on-base streak to the Pac-12/Big Ten challenge starting Friday against No. 2 Oregon State. And if Pritchard extends the streak through the weekend, it’ll be a school record dating back to 2000 (when the program began tracking on-base streaks).
But point out those personal achievements, and Pritchard will inevitably start thinking about the Huskers’ losing record last year. Or the fact that Nebraska hasn’t reached an NCAA regional since he’s been here.
“I’ve never won a state championship, I’ve never won a conference championship — I’ve never won anything,” Pritchard said. “All I want to do is get a ring at the end of the year.”
It took him nearly a full collegiate career to figure out how to weave that mentality into his daily routine.
There was the weekend when Pritchard temporarily quit baseball, back when he was a “scared freshman.” Practice hadn’t started yet, but Pritchard was on the porch with his dad on the first day of classes when the phone rang. It was then-coach Mike Anderson.
“Do I need to come get you?”
No. Dad wasn’t letting Pritchard give up that easily.
But things got more difficult for Pritchard. He strutted to home plate later that fall and assumed he’d launch the ball into the outfield bullpen, but he was left glaring at harmless groundballs throughout the season.
He eventually took the advice of NU coach Darin Erstad to start using the opposite field more. He’s expanded his approach since.
That desire to adapt and improve is what the Nebraska coaches admire about Pritchard.
As Bolt puts it, not every 20-year-old ballplayer is willing to look at himself in the mirror and consider a change. Especially with a new staff guiding the process.
“There were many heart-to-heart talks, very pointed and honest conversations,” Bolt said. “I was on him probably as hard as anybody.”
Pritchard says that’s what he needed.
He’d always wanted to win, but he just recently realized what it takes. Now he wants to finish off his NU career on a high note.
“There’s one goal here, and that’s winning a championship,” Pritchard said.