Nebraska, winner in 14 of past 15 games, at front of Big Ten surge

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Nebraska’s three-game sweep of Texas this past weekend is the latest sign of Big Ten baseball’s increasing credibility at the national level.

The Cornhuskers (21-7) have won 14 of their past 15 for their best stretch since 2008, and they were as high as No. 18 in the polls Monday. Illinois (19-6-1), as high as No. 15, is the other Big Ten team in all four major polls.

Conference newcomer Maryland (18-7) and Iowa (17-6) each are in at least one poll.

Long-struggling Iowa raised eyebrows with its sweep of two-time defending conference champion Indiana.

The Big Ten has never advanced more than three teams to the NCAA tournament. The belief around the league is that a record four, or more, could still be playing after Memorial Day.

“That’s completely reasonable,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “Obviously, the teams have to continue to play well, so who knows. But I think there are six or seven teams that have enough talent when healthy to be regional type teams.”

The reunion of old Big 12 rivals Texas and Nebraska was one of the country’s featured series. Nebraska pitchers limited the Big 12-leading Longhorns to three runs on 12 hits in 33 innings. The Huskers recorded 33 strikeouts against just five walks.

Iowa, which won its first three Big Ten games for the first time since 1994, is off to its fast start with five everyday players and two weekend starting pitchers who are holdovers from the previous coaching staff.

“We’ve played well all year, especially defensively, and we’ve pitched it pretty well and our bullpen is strong,” second-year coach Rick Heller said. “It was cold early and not conducive to hitting, and we saw some very good arms. I knew once the weather warmed up, we would start clicking. It clicked pretty good this weekend.”

A look around the country:

SHUFFLE AT TOP: Defending national champion Vanderbilt (22-6) has won its first three Southeastern Conference series and returned to No. 1 in the NCBWA, D1Baseball.com and Baseball America polls. Previous No. 1 LSU lost two of three at home against Kentucky. Collegiate Baseball newspaper has Texas A&M (27-2) No. 1 for the second consecutive week.

SCORELESS DROUGHT: Mississippi State went 29 consecutive innings without scoring before John Holland homered against Auburn Sunday. The Bulldogs were shut out three consecutive games, starting with last Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Southern Miss. Auburn beat the Bulldogs 5-0 Friday and 4-0 Saturday for its first back-to-back road shutouts against an SEC opponent since 1967. Holland’s homer in the second inning Sunday helped the Bulldogs to a 3-1 win.

WOLFPACK ON A ROLL: Nevada (23-5) has won all seven of its series and 10 of its last 11 games. Second baseman Ryan Howell is leading the Wolf Pack with a .400 batting average, nine home runs and 40 RBIs.

CHANTICLEERS GET STRONG-ARMED: Winthrop’s Matt Crohan limited Coastal Carolina to one hit in eight innings on Sunday in a 3-0 victory that ended the Chanticleers’ 11-game win streak. The left-hander struck out 12 and walked three before turning the game over to Travis Shelley in the ninth.

SUN DEVILS HOT: First-year coach Tracy Smith’s Arizona State club has won eight of its past nine and is coming off its first sweep of Stanford since 2009. Brian Serven went 5 for 5 and homered twice, and Brett Lilek carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Sunday’s 14-6 win.

This article was written by Eric Olson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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