After Thursday afternoon’s practice, College of Charleston senior pitcher Nathan Helvey made a point to check on his new head coach.
Matt Heath, who had been Charleston’s pitching coach since 2011, was going to make his head coaching debut with the Cougars less than 24 hours later.
It’s not that Helvey was concerned or worried about his former position coach, he just wanted to get a feel for Heath’s psyche going into his first game as a head coach.
“I asked him if he was nervous and he said he was more excited than nervous,” Helvey said. “There really hasn’t been that much of a difference in him since he’s been a head coach. He still approaches everything the same way he did when he was an assistant.”
Heath, 36, probably didn’t have the debut he’d hoped for.
Luis Alvarado had three hits and Colton Howell pitched five shutout innings as Nebraska spoiled the coaching debut for Heath with a 4-0 victory over the Cougars Friday afternoon at Patriots Point.
It was the first time the Cougars have been shutout in their season opener since they joined the Division I ranks in 1991.
“We’re disappointed that we lost, but baseball is a game based on failure,” Heath said. “You have to give Nebraska credit, especially their pitchers. They were outstanding on the mound today. I thought their starter, Howell, was really good for them.”
Heath said he wasn’t overly nervous about making his head coaching debut.
“I was excited more than nervous,” Heath said. “I had to think about a lot more than just the pitching staff today. It was exciting. For me it was just another day at the yard. I did what I’ve done for the last five years and that’s call pitches. From that point of view I felt like I was back in the saddle.”
Helvey, who threw six shutout innings, said Heath was a calming influence in the dugout.
“He was pretty calm actually,” Helvey said. “You could tell he was excited. He was definitely more in tune with everything that was going on. When he was the pitching coach, he’d just sit back and watch the hitters. Now he’s more involved in what they’re doing.”
The Cougars hitters didn’t do much against a trio of Nebraska pitchers. The Cougars managed just two hits against the Cornhuskers.
The Cougars had a legitimate excuse for their lack of production. Alex Pastorius, who smacked nine home runs in 2015, and Morgan Phillips, who had seven homers and 40 RBI last season, were out of the lineup.
“We had a bunch of young freshmen in the lineup and I wanted to see what they could do,” Heath said. “I think our offense is going to be very good. Pastorius and Phillips were not in there today and when they get in there this offense is going to be good.”
Helvey gave up just four hits over six innings, while walking two and striking out four batters.
“Nathan was outstanding tonight,” Heath said. “I’ve watch him mature from his freshman year to now and I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s a Friday night guy and he proved that tonight. I think he’s a click away from being one of the best pitchers in our conference.”
After six scoreless innings, the Cornhuskers finally broke through with two runs in the seventh due to a throwing error by relief pitcher Anthony Burke on a bunt attempt.
“Anthony is one of our most athletic guys on the mound,” Heath said. “He just rushed his throw a little. It was just some tough luck. He’s going to be a guy we’re going to rely on pretty heavily this season. He’ll be back.”
Nebraska got two more runs in the eighth inning.
Heath will have to wait another day before he can get his first win as a head coach.
“I told the guys after the game that this was my first game as a head coach and I lost it,” Heath said. “I came in undefeated and now I’ve never won a game. I’m disappointed. I’m not upset. I’m not angry. That’s baseball. I just want us to do a couple of things better (Saturday) and I think we’ll be fine.”