Omaha Set for Weekend Series at Incarnate Word
The Omaha baseball team visits Incarnate Word this weekend for three-game series, March 3-5 at Sullivan Field in San Antonio, Texas. First pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m., followed by 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. Links to live stats, audio and video, as available, will be on OMavs.com.
•Omaha played a three-game series at No. 6 Louisville last weekend, marking the highest-ranked opponent Omaha has faced in the Division I era.
•Twenty-eight players have seen playing time in the Mavericks' first nine games, with junior James Smith, sophomores Nate Mallott and Parker Smejkal, redshirt freshman Andrew Hall and freshmen Cole Thibodeau and Mark Ehresman all making their first career starts.
•Smejkal is hitting a team-leading .292 entering the weekend at Incarnate Word.
•The 2017 season marks Omaha’s second with full NCAA Division I postseason eligibility for the Summit League and NCAA Tournaments. The Mavericks completed a required four-year Division I reclassification period from 2012 to 2015.
•UNO returns 19 letterwinners this year, including six position players with starting experience: Cate, Suponchick, Palensky, Caniglia and sophomores Riley Herold and Jack Kalina.
•Cate is the Mavericks' lone returning All-Summit selection.
•UNO was picked fourth in the Summit League Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the second straight season. In 2016, the Mavericks went on to finish as the league's regular-season runner-up.
•Omaha is 254-286 all-time against all opponents on the schedule this year and 145-123 all-time against the five other teams in the Summit League. The Mavericks have compiled a 65-45 record in Summit League play since 2013.
Scouting the Incarnate Word Cardinals
Incarnate Word carries a record of 5-5 (0-0 Southland) after splitting a four-game series with Central Michigan last weekend, then falling 12-5 at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The Cardinals, who went 13-38 (5-22 Southland), were picked 13th in the Southland Conference's preseason poll.
Head coach Danny Heep is in his 20th season at UIW with a career record of 586-442.
Friday marks the fourth meeting all-time between Omaha and Incarnate Word, with the Mavericks leading the series 2-1. The two programs last met May 21-23, 2015 in Omaha, where the Cardinals won the opening game 11-9 before the Mavericks earned wins of 6-2 and 6-5 in 10 innings to close the weekend series.
Smejkal Stepping Up
Sophomore Parker Smejkal leads the Mavericks with a .292 batting average entering this weekend's series at Incarnate Word. Over four games at Kansas and No. 6 Louisville last week, the Columbus, Neb., native batted a team-best .385 with two walks, a run scored and a team-high .500 on-base percentage. He also had the first two multi-hit performances of his career, going 2-for-4 against UL on Friday and 2-for-3 on Sunday.
Palensky Settling In at Short
After starting all 56 games at second base as a junior, senior Sam Palensky made the switch to shortstop for his 2017 campaign and has had the starting nod there in all nine games. The Papillion, Neb., native owns a team-leading three multi-hit performances so far, including a 2-for-4 day at UNLV on Feb. 19, when he scored twice and added two RBI.
Palensky is following in the steps of his older brother, Caleb, a four-year starting infielder from 2011-14.
Omaha opens the 2017 season with 13 straight road games in four different states, visiting Nevada once, Kentucky once, Texas once and Kansas three times. Out of the gate, the Mavericks saw two 2016 NCAA Tournament teams in the first two weekends, having faced Saint Mary's on Feb. 19, then visiting Louisville for a three-game series last weekend.
Maverick Mound Notes
•Omaha returns two starters from its 2016 weekend rotation with senior southpaw Sam Murphy and junior right-hander Corey Binger. Murphy was primarily the Mavericks' Saturday starter, while Binger had the Sunday spot.
•Both Murphy and Binger were honored with Summit League Pitcher of the Week awards last year, as Binger earned the recognition on March 14 and May 16, and Murphy was tabbed on April 4.
•The duo finished in the top 10 in the Summit League in multiple categories in 2016. Binger was first for complete games (two) and shutouts (one), third for wins (seven) and seventh for ERA (4.06) and innings pitched (75.1). Murphy was fifth for ERA (3.86), strikeouts (65) and strikeouts per game (8.09) and ninth for innings pitched (72.1).
•Binger's two complete games came vs. Bowling Green (March 12) and at Western Illinois (May 15), with the latter a 14-0 shutout.
•Sophomore right-hander Grant Suponchick made four mound appearances in his freshman campaign with 10.1 innings pitched, including two starts. He got the ball for his first career start at Wichita State (March 1), throwing a season-long 4.0 innings while allowing one run on four hits and a walk with one strikeout.
•Junior right-hander James Smith is a transfer from Trinidad State JC. In 2016, he went 11-1 on the mound with a 3.42 ERA last season for the Trojans, totaling a team-high 84.1 innings of work and issuing 79 strikeouts to 22 walks.
•Junior right-hander Ryan Cate led the Mavericks with five saves in 15 relief appearances last season.
•The Omaha bullpen returns four more experienced arms in junior right-hander David Flattery and senior right-handers Shane Meltz, Brett Sasse and Eric Moreno. Flattery made 17 appearances with four starts and two saves, totaling 45.2 innings of work, while Meltz made 16 appearances with four starts, one win and one save over 34.1 innings. Moreno also made 16 appearances with one save over 23.1 innings, and Sasse tallied two wins in 14 appearances and four starts, compiling 37.2 innings.
•Omaha's 2016 pitching staff was better on the bump in Summit League play, lowering its ERA to 4.17 in league contests from 5.98 in non-conference games.
2017 Slate Takes Mavericks Around the Nation
Omaha’s 2017 schedule includes 55 games, and the team will play in 12 states against schools from 10 other Division I conferences. Four opponents – Louisville, Nebraska, Saint Mary's and Oral Roberts – played in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Entering the season, the Mavericks had never faced two of their opponents in Saint Mary's and Louisville. Omaha holds a combined all-time record of 254-286 over all teams on the regular-season slate.
Porter Enters First Season as Head Coach
Head coach Evan Porter enters his first year as the skipper of the Omaha baseball program in 2017 after serving four years as an assistant coach. One of the most decorated players in UNO history, Porter was four-year starter at shortstop from 2005-09 and a two-time All-American. He was also a three-time all-region selection from 2007-09, earning awards from Daktronics and Rawlings/ABCA. Additionally, Porter was a two-time All-NCC pick (2007-08) and was first-team All-MIAA in 2009.
Porter's name runs through the Omaha record books, as he remains the program's all-time leader in games played (239), at-bats (869), hits (323), doubles (75), home runs (43), runs batted in (249) and total bases (527). His 97 hits recorded as a senior were a UNO single-season record that still stands.
A member of the UNO squad that earned a berth to the 2007 NCAA Division II College World Series, Porter was part of two Maverick teams (2006, 2008) that set a school record with 45 wins. During his time, UNO made four straight NCAA regional appearances and won the 2008 NCC championship.
Following his senior campaign, Porter was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 23rd round. He has played professionally overseas for the Solingen Alligators in Germany (2010), Gothenburg Sharks in Sweden (2011), Victoria Park Reds in Australia (2011-12), ADO AamigoO Lakers in Holland (2012) and Sölvesborg Firehawks in Sweden (2014, 2016).
Porter is assisted by assistant coach Chris Gadsden, in his 18th year, and pitching coach Brian Strawn, in his second year, as well as volunteer assistant coach Brett Swain, who is in his first year.
What Makes Up the Mavericks
•In terms of offensive production, Omaha's 2017 returners accounted for 57 percent of the Mavericks’ hits, 46 percent of their runs scored, 48 percent of their RBI, 47 percent of their extra-base hits and 14 percent of their stolen bases last season.
•Omaha’s returning pitchers are credited with 70 percent of the team’s innings pitched last year, 70 percent of its strikeouts, 61 percent of its wins and 100 percent of its saves.
•Adam Caniglia was third on the team for at-bats (210) in his sophomore season, the most of any returner.
•UNO’s 2017 roster includes seven seniors, eight juniors, 11 sophomores, one redshirt freshman and eight freshmen.
•The Mavericks hail from eight different states. Twenty-two are from Nebraska, four are from Minnesota, three hail from Colorado and two are out of Iowa, while Florida, Kansas, Illinois and Missouri are all represented once on the roster.
All in the Family
Omaha baseball is a family affair for a handful of Mavericks, two of whom have followed in their fathers’ footsteps by playing at UNO. Senior infielder Sam Palensky’s father, Jim Palensky, played from 1984-85 and also served as an assistant coach with the Mavericks. Sophomore infielder Riley Herold's father, Bob Herold, was an NAIA All-American at UNO in 1971 and served as head coach for 17 seasons.
On the sibling side, Palensky’s older brother, Caleb, was an All-Summit infielder and lettered from 2011-14, and his younger brother, Ben, has signed a National Letter of Intent to join the program in 2018. Sophomore infielder Jack Kalina’s grandfather, Phil Gradoville, also played at UNO, and sophomore right-handed pitcher/infielder Grant Suponchick’s brother, Beau Suponchick, lettered two seasons for Omaha (2011-12).
In addition, freshman infielder Adam Gadsden's father is current Maverick assistant coach Chris Gadsden.
A total of 15 newcomers -- freshmen, redshirts or transfers -- are on the Omaha roster in 2017. Eight true freshmen are in the mix: Adam Gadsden (Omaha, Neb.), Cole Thibodeau (Omaha, Neb.), Adam Rellihan (Lenexa, Kan.), Mark Ehresman (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Mike Brown (Omaha, Neb.), Cam Fowler (Moline, Ill.), Zac Zagozda (Omaha, Neb.) and Joey Machado (Omaha, Neb.). Andrew Hall (Colorado Springs, Colo.) redshirted in 2016.
Six transfers also joined the Mavericks this season: Parker Smejkal (Columbus, Neb.) from Coffeyville CC, Nate Mallott (Omaha, Neb.) from Scottsdale CC, Payton Kinney (Firth, Neb.) from Southeast CC, James Smith (Brighton, Colo.) from Trinidad State JC, Nick Drahozal (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) from Kirkwood CC and Austin Groth (South Sioux City, Neb.) from Creighton.
In the first two weeks of play, 10 newcomers have seen the field: Drahozal, Ehresman, Fowler, Groth, Hall, Kinney, Mallott, Smejkal, Smith and Thibodeau.
Omaha caps its 13-game opening road stretch with another visit to Kansas on Wednesday, March 8. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence, Kan. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3, and links to live stats, audio and video will be available on OMavs.com.