By ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer
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 last 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 Hawkeyes are a league-best No. 11 in the RPI after playing 18 of its first 19 on the road. Six other Big Ten teams are among the top 52 in RPI, according to BoydsWorld.com.
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 over 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.”