Penn State baseball excited for Nebraska matchup

By Ryan Loy

Penn State and Nebraska’s baseball teams have combined for more than 6,000 games played and nearly 4,000 wins since both programs began playing more than 100 years ago.

Yet, the two programs have never faced each other on the diamond.

That should change in two seasons, when Nebraska begins competition as a member of the Big Ten.

The history the Cornhuskers have built while playing in the Big 12 has the Penn State players and coaches excited to face Nebraska and hopefully create a new rivalry.

“Any time you get a new team that you weren’t expecting, it’s always fun,” pitcher Ryan Ignas said. “We like to play teams that are nationally known in the Big 12. When we went down and played Texas and Texas A&M we were pumped up.”

Despite finishing 27-27 in 2010, Nebraska has been dominant during its time in the Big 12.

The Cornhuskers are second to perennial power Texas in number of Big 12 regular season and tournament championships won. Nebraska has claimed three regular season and four conference tournament titles in 14 seasons of Big 12 play.

In addition to success in the Big 12, Nebraska made three appearances to the College World Series in the last decade (2001, 2002 and 2005).

With the Cornhuskers’ past success in the Big 12, Nittany Lion first baseman Joey DeBernardis believes they may be a strong team in the conference once they begin play in the Big Ten.

“I definitely think they’ll be up there [in the conference standings],” DeBernardis said. “They’re a good team and coming from the Big 12, they’ve been playing good competition.”

Baseball programs in the Big 12 have been generally strong in recent seasons compared to the Big Ten. The final NCBWA Rankings for 2010 had two Big 12 teams in the Top 25 — including No. 1 Texas — while two others received votes. No teams from the Big Ten even received votes in the poll.

Penn State pitching coach Jason Bell, who played and coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State, recently spoke with Nebraska assistant coach Dave Bingham.

Bell said Bingham shared the same feelings with the potential matchup as the Lions. Bingham believed Nebraska had a natural fit in the Big Ten and said the Cornhuskers were looking forward to the change.

Bell said there is no difference in the style of play between the two conferences, but he said Nebraska will have to adjust to a few differences in rules in the Big Ten.

The Lion coach mentioned the disallowance of over-signing players in the Big Ten — something that’s allowed in the Big 12 — as one of the minor adjustments the Cornhuskers will face. Over-signing allows programs to use money from potential draft picks for future scholarships before those prospects sign major league contracts.

The Cornhuskers have had their share of players advance to the professional ranks. There are currently three Nebraska alumni in Major League Baseball and six others playing in AAA.

Former Nebraska outfielder Darin Erstad, who played professionally for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros, was named to their coaching staff July 8.

Bell believes the rich history of Nebraska and alumni such as Erstad will help add to the reputation of Big Ten baseball.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Bell said. “It will do nothing but help the Big Ten as far as recognition. When you talk about getting more teams into regionals and getting national recognition, it’s another name to lend a hand.”

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