Nebraska got a tougher draw than expected Monday as the NCAA baseball tournament brackets were released, but the Huskers are insisting it doesn't matter to them.
The Huskers are headed to Fayetteville as the No. 2 seed in a four-team double-elimination regional hosted by Arkansas, the tournament's overall top seed. Nebraska will open at 7 p.m. CDT Friday on ESPN3 against the bracket's No. 3 seed, Northeastern, after Arkansas faces No. 4 seed NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology, aka New Jersey Tech) earlier in the day at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The assignment essentially slots Nebraska as the tournament's overall No. 32 seed, a curious situation given the Huskers' top-25 poll ranking, their Big Ten-champion status and their record-setting season for conference wins. The Big Ten's decision to play no nonconference games this season no doubt cost the Huskers, and only two other conference teams, Michigan and Maryland, made the 64-team field.
Husker players shrugged off the degree-of-difficulty aspect of their destination.
"Don't care," said senior Jaxon Hallmark. "We're going to play baseball. That's it."
Joe Acker, another senior, had this to say: "This team is built for that, ... to handle whatever's thrown at us, and I think it's really fitting that we're headed there."
"Right now," Acker said, "we've got to focus on our task at hand, which is Northeastern."
Arkansas is coached by Dave Van Horn, who revived the Nebraska program two decades ago. One of his star players from that time, Will Bolt, is in his second season piloting the Huskers and on Sunday was named the Big Ten's coach of the year.
"It's always a little bit weird when you're playing someone kind of in your tree," Bolt said, "but this weekend is going to be all about the baseball."
As for the Huskers' challenging start to their College World Series quest, Bolt echoed his players: "It's five wins to Omaha no matter how you draw it up."
How do Nebraska fans feel? Check out the discussion on the HuskerMax forums.
A rundown of the Fayetteville bracket:
- Arkansas: Southeastern Conference, 46-10
- Nebraska: Big Ten Conference, 31-12
- Northeastern: Colonial Athletic Association, 36-10
- NJIT: America East Conference, 26-22
View the full tournament bracket at this link.
Van Horn has a 4-5 record at Arkansas against the Huskers. The teams last met early in the 2017 season, when the Razorbacks won 15-5 in the Frisco College Classic in Texas.
This season, Arkansas and Nebraska were supposed to play two games in Fayetteville in March, but that was wiped out by the Big Ten's conference-only decision.
Coach and player reactions
In the videos below, provided by Nebraska Athletics Communications, coach Bolt and players Hallmark, Acker, Max Anderson and Spencer Schwellenbach discuss the Huskers' upcoming weekend in Arkansas and more.