Big 12 champion Nebraska No. 1 seed in NCAA regional

Monday, May 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska is returning to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, this time as a No. 1 seed.

The Cornhuskers play fourth-seeded Butler in the first round Friday in Minneapolis.

"It's naturally exciting just to see your name there but to also be a No. 1 seed, that's something we're going to be very proud of for a long time," coach Dave Van Horn said.

Host Minnesota, the No. 2 seed, and Wichita State are the other teams in the region.

The Huskers, who made their first NCAA appearance since 1985 last year, are 29-4 since being swept at Baylor at the beginning of
April and have won five straight games.

After being upset by Missouri on Friday in the opening game of the Big 12 tournament, the Huskers won four in a row -- including two games over Oklahoma on Saturday -- to clinch a spot in Sunday's championship. Nebraska routed top-seeded Baylor 11-3 in the title

"I've been saying it all year. It's not a fluke that we're winning games," Van Horn said. "We have talent and I think they proved that by coming through the losers' bracket and winning five straight."

The Huskers had to travel more than 720 miles to Columbus, Ohio, for last year's regional, where they went 1-2. Van Horn said playing in Minneapolis, about 330 miles northeast of Lincoln, should bring in more of a Nebraska crowd.

"This gives our fans a chance to get there a little less expensively than some of the regionals," he said. "The fans help. They fire us up. It's neat to see all of that red in the stands."

Having been to the tournament before will also help, said catcher Justin Cowan, who expects to be behind the plate Friday for the first time since having knee surgery May 9.

"We played hard last year and we played well, but this year it just seems we have the confidence to go with that," Cowan said.
"I think we're more excited and anxious than we are nervous like we were last year."

The winner advances to a super regional, one step away from the College World Series, which takes place June 9-17 in Omaha.

Although the Nebraska campus is only about 60 miles away from Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, the Huskers have only made the trip to the CWS as spectators, not players.

But the CWS is two steps away. First Nebraska would have to get through Butler (31-26); Wichita State (42-19) and Minnesota (37-22).

And if the Huskers survive the regional, Stanford, Alabama, and Fresno State are in the opposite bracket. The Crimson Tide and the Cardinal were knocked out in the CWS semifinals last year and Fresno State beat Nebraska 6-1 May 13 in Lincoln.

"A two, three or four seed could win that regional. Same as ours," Van Horn said. "It's such a cliche, but if you look past somebody you're going to get beat.