NCAA Baseball

Five seniors to take advantage of NCAA waiver, return to Husker baseball for 2021 season

Five seniors to take advantage of NCAA waiver, return to Husker baseball for 2021 season

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Joe Acker

More than seven weeks after the coronavirus pandemic halted the Huskers’ season at 15 games, Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt said that five of the program’s six seniors — including Joe Acker (seen above) — will take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver.

Z LONG/THE WORLD-HERALD

Nearly every senior from Nebraska’s 2020 baseball team appears set to make another go of it next spring.

More than seven weeks after the coronavirus pandemic halted the Huskers’ season at 15 games, coach Will Bolt said Monday that five of the program’s six seniors will take advantage of the blanket waiver afforded to any spring-sport athletes who wish to retain their eligibility.

“There’s obviously potential professional opportunities there for most guys,” Bolt said on the Husker Sports Network. “But with a five-round (MLB) draft and so much uncertainty with free agent signings and stuff, I think most of those guys are planning on just coming back and playing next year.”

Four of the returning seniors were regulars in the 2020 lineup — center fielder Joe Acker, left fielder Mojo Hagge, catcher Luke Roskam and first baseman Ty Roseberry. The other, left-hander Gareth Stroh, opened as the Friday night starting pitcher and began a pair of February contests before injuring his throwing elbow. Next season will be Stroh’s sixth in college baseball after sitting out 2019 as a Purdue transfer.

Two-way player Ben Klenke, who had already graduated and has a young son, elected not to return, Bolt said. The former Seward standout didn’t appear in any games this year.

Circumstances for the seniors vary. Roskam and Stroh are headed for summer ball in the Northwoods League — assuming shutdown measures against the pandemic are lifted by then — while Hagge plans to play in the Alaska Baseball League. Roseberry, a walk-on from Kearney who will graduate in December, has an internship lined up with an agronomy business in his hometown. Acker is rehabbing a leg injury.

Bolt said the extra players will provide new challenges to a sport that already deals with draft-eligible prospects and junior college recruits. The returning seniors won’t count against standard NCAA baseball limits of 11.7 scholarships split among 27 athletes and a 35-man roster in 2021. They do, however, bring back unexpected financial costs and competition for playing time.

“We’re constantly having to try to juggle the roster as it is,” Bolt said. “So just a little bit more with this. But I’m happy that the guys are getting this year back having only played 15 games.”

If summer ball is canceled, Bolt said, coaches are exploring the possibility of being allowed to work with their players during the summer. It all leads into a critical fall — usually an important development time anyway — as everyone returns from a lengthy baseball layoff. Joining the program will be 13 signees (four walk-ons) from the 2020 class.

A logjam appears inevitable in the outfield. Junior right fielder Aaron Palensky also returns, and redshirted senior Texas A&M transfer Logan Foster will be in the mix as well along with Acker and Hagge. At catcher, Roskam and junior Gunner Hellstrom lead a group that includes freshman Aaron Dolney and a pair of 2020 signees headed by junior college transfer Griffin Everitt.

“It would be a very large roster, and I think there would be a lot of talent,” Acker told The World-Herald last month. “We would not be short on talent, that’s for sure.”

Nebraska also will retain its fourth-year juniors in pitchers Paul Tillotson and Connor Curry along with outfielder Carter Cross, a source confirmed to The World-Herald. Tillotson, with a 7.66 ERA in 32 career appearances, has fought injuries his entire career but had a 2.57 ERA and settled into the closer’s role this spring. Cross has played in 37 career games while Curry is recovering from his second Tommy John procedure and was already set to miss all of 2020.

The roster crunch will have a “ripple-down effect” for future teams and classes, Bolt said. Most of Nebraska’s 2021 class is set — it has 10 pledges — and coaches are building 2022 (two commits so far). Many of the program’s 2022 targets attended a January indoor camp that gave NU coaches “a bit of a comfort level” about where it stands with prospects even if they are unable to play any baseball this summer.

The past 10 years of Nebraska baseball

evan.bland@owh.com, 402-525-6970, twitter.com/EvanBlandOWH

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Joe Acker

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