The most recent baseball history between Nebraska and Arizona State takes up a fairly large amount of space in the book on the Huskers' program.
Most notably, at least for Husker fans, is the 5-3 win in 2005 over the Sun Devils that stands as the first and only College World Series victory for NU.
The rest of those meetings are tilted decidedly in ASU's favor. The Sun Devils later beat Nebraska 8-7 to eliminate the Huskers from the 2005 CWS and end the best season in program history. And in the teams' last meeting, in 2007, Arizona State pounded NU 19-7 at the Tempe Regional to again end Nebraska's run.
So it might look a little funny seeing Arizona State's jerseys inside Haymarket Park in early May. But it does serve an important purpose.
"Obviously they’ve got some very talented players, and these are the type of teams that — like I tell them all the time — these are the type of teams you’ve got to be able to play with if you want to get anywhere," Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. "And we’re just going to keep on bringing them at them."
The series is part of a home-and-home deal that will see Nebraska make the trip to Tempe next season. Because Big Ten teams often don't know their bye weeks until late in the scheduling process, it can be a "scramble" to find games, Erstad said. And with the league's programs constantly looking for an RPI boost, finding quality programs to put on the schedule can be difficult.
"A lot of times you have to pay somebody, in our world, quite a bit of money to get teams to come in," Erstad said. "And we were able to hook up with these guys for a home-and-home. So, a quality program, and a great home-and-home."
It's a bit of a unique situation for Nebraska — in the midst of trying to stay in the Big Ten race — as NU steps out of conference play for one weekend while its league counterparts continue to battle each other.
"I think it's a little strange," NU outfielder Aaron Palensky said. "It's my first year here, so I didn't really know that's how it worked, but I think it's kind of interesting since we're playing a quality opponent."
While the results of the three-game set that begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday don't matter at all in Nebraska's efforts to keep pace in the Big Ten, the opportunity to bolster an RPI that is hovering in the mid-40s gives the Huskers plenty to play for.
Arizona State comes to Lincoln with an RPI of 36 as of Thursday afternoon, eight spots ahead of the Huskers. In the most recent NCAA Tournament projection from D1 Baseball, the Sun Devils are a No. 2 seed while Nebraska (24-18) is among the first five teams out of the field of 64.
"I think I’ve pretty much pounded it into their heads that it doesn’t matter. We don’t let those situations dictate how we go about our business," Erstad said. "Conference game or nonconference game, midweek or weekend, you can’t change the way you go about your business."
The Sun Devils will bring a gaudy set of numbers into Haymarket Park.
Coached by former Indiana head man Tracy Smith, ASU is 34-12 after starting the season 21-0, and owns one of the most potent offenses in the country.
Led by outfielder Hunter Bishop, projected as a top-10 pick in this summer's MLB Draft, the Sun Devils are second nationally in home runs, third in slugging percentage, runs per game, seventh in total runs scored, ninth in total hits and 10th in batting average.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Bishop, who owns a sweet left-handed swing, has drilled 21 home runs this season. As a team Nebraska has, you guessed it, 21 home runs. Bishop is hitting .357 with an .819 slugging percentage that ranks fourth nationally.
"Well, pray for the wind to be blowing in, which it's not going to be," Erstad joked of the approach his pitching staff will have to take. "You've got to make quality pitches. You're going to take some lumps, and you've got to be able to get on the next pitch and be ready to go."
The Huskers will be without junior Joe Acker, who will miss the series because of a family obligation, Erstad said. Acker is one of two Huskers batting better than .300 this season, with a .302 average in 35 games.
NU could also be without Spencer Schwellenbach, who Erstad said is day-to-day after aggravating an ankle injury when he collided with Acker in the outfield last weekend against Northwestern.