UNO Baseball team claims schools first Division-I conference title

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May 19th, 2013

Omaha, NE – The UNO baseball team wrapped up its season Saturday with a win over South Dakota State University by the score of 8-2. The Mavericks end their season at 27-22 overall and 20-6 in the Summit League.

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But more importantly, UNO’s baseball team became the first program at the university to win a Division-I conference championship, as the Mavs beat the Jackrabbits Friday to secure the regular season title. And UNO did that in dramatic fashion, as senior outfielder Ryan Keele hit a walk-off homerun to end the game and give UNO the victory.

Mavericks celebrate Ryan Keele's (12) walk-off home run to give UNO the regular season Summit League title (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

Mavericks celebrate Ryan Keele’s (12) walk-off home run to give UNO the regular season Summit League title (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

It was however, a rocky start to the season as head coach Bob Herold points out. But he says the team gelled well as the season wore on and became more confident in their play. The schedule backs that statement up, as the Mavs had an eight game winning streak in April and finished the year winning nine of eleven games. Herold also calls the talent in the Summit League very even from top to bottom.

“Looking out there I don’t see the difference in talent,” Herold said. “Now granted we aren’t played South Carolina and Arkansas and Cal State Fullerton so we’re not seeing 95 (mph) every time out there either. But the way the guys play you see a few more guys making that can run and make catches in the outfield and good plays in the infield,” he said. “So you are seeing a little bit more overall talent, which will cut your batting average down,” Herold said.

Herold says in a cold weather league like the Summit League, it is normal for the pitching to be ahead of the hitting. And that’s where he sees the only inconsistency in the conference. He talked about the Mavs first full year in the Summit League, going from playing 10 conference games in 2012 to 26 this year.

UNO head coach Bob Herold notched his fourth conference championship this year, but it was UNO's first Division-I conference title. (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

UNO head coach Bob Herold notched his fourth conference championship this year, but it was UNO’s first Division-I conference title. (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

“Guys always talk about when you play a close game with somebody, ‘hey we can play with these guys,’ Herold said. “Of course you can you are scheduled,” he said. “You are going to play with them every game; you are going to play with them, So the mentality has to go from ‘can we not play with these guys?’ (to) ‘we can beat these guys’ and then ‘we are going to beat these guys.’ Herold said.

One pitcher who has benefited from the move to D-I is sophomore pitcher Zach Williamsen who finished the year 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA while yielding just a .216 batting average to opposing hitters. Coach Herold also pointed to his 2-to-1 strikeouts to walks ratio.

“He is an imposing guys, 6’5”, his ball really moves in the strike zone which means you can’t just settle in and say ’I’m going to get a good swing on this guy’ because it’s not there part of the time,” Herold said. “He has got a pretty good breaking ball; he is a guy that has really given himself an opportunity,” he said.

With UNO ineligible for post season play due to NCAA rules regarding their move to D-I in 2011, Herold says he is building for the future. One player he noted as a building block was redshirt freshman Clayton Taylor, who filled in for the Mavs nicely this year, hitting .353 and leading the Mavs in on base percentage and getting 23 walks. Herold notes the impact the redshirt year had on Clayton.

“Tremendously,” Herold said. “In fact he was a guy that looked for it. He is a terrific player, I think he won the class B batting title two years in the row. He really has a solid eye at the plate, has a great feel for the game of baseball,” Herold said. “But he was, by his own admission was a skinny guy, well a tall skinny guy. So he used the year to actually put on about twenty pounds so it helped him there,” he said.

Clayton Taylor came out swinging in his first year of Division-I baseball, batting .353 and leading the Mavs with a .466 OBP. (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

Clayton Taylor came out swinging in his first year of Division-I baseball, batting .353 and leading the Mavs with a .466 OBP. (Photo Courtesy UNO Athletics)

Taylor will play summer ball in El Dorado Kansas this year and he says he would like to improve his game over the summer, primarily his defense. He also points to the redshirt year as a big reason why he had so much success at the plate this season.

“It really helped, I wasn’t ready to play at the division-I level last year,” Taylor said. “And taking the year to get stronger and work on my hitting, work on my fielding really helped me develop into he player I am today,” he said.

Herold says his teams approach isn’t about focusing on the winning. It’s about the laying the groundwork to be successful through preparation and playing with controlled intensity.

“So the progression takes a little while,” Herold said. “Particularly when you are getting your rear-end kicked,” he said. “So we kind of got through that, then each guy stepped up and we kind of massaged our pitching staff a little bit to see who was pitching better. Moved guys to the front and moved them around a bit and now it’s starting to work out for us,” Herold said.

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