Heading into the 2022 season, Nebraska baseball faced a major problem: It needed more starting pitchers.
Due to graduations and injuries, the Huskers had to look to the bullpen for solutions. One name stood out as a natural fit: senior pitcher Koty Frank, who had a successful starting pitching career at Eastern Oklahoma State College. At the junior college level, Frank posted an 11-6 record, with seven complete games under his belt.
However, one thing was clear. He would have to earn the opportunity to start at Nebraska.
After Frank competed for a starting spot in the fall, the coaches felt he was best fit for the bullpen to start the season. But the season did not start as planned, as the Huskers only won one of their first seven.
Going into a four-game weekend, Nebraska started Frank for the series opener against Northwestern State. There he earned the opportunity he was presented at the start of the season, as he tossed 6.2 shutout innings with a career-high 10 strikeouts. Frank has not left the starting rotation since.
“It was going out there and competing like I always do and being able to maintain the stamina that comes with being a starter,” Frank said. “You have to do multiple innings and go through the lineup multiple times, so it was fine-tuning those things and getting it back to where it was in junior college.”
While he fine-tuned his pitches to work as a starter at the Division I level, he noticed one major difference between being a Big Ten starter from his time as a starter in junior college: Any mistake you make on the mound is punished more often than not.
Frank noted that if a fastball to the edge of the strike zone finds its way to the middle of the plate, it will end up in the outfield grass for a home run. While that may put pressure on a pitcher to try to throw every pitch as perfect as possible, Frank found that to be the wrong mentality to have on the mound.
“For me it was more of focusing on precision and accuracy,” Frank said. “I have to pick out a spot on [senior catcher] Griffin Everitt and it helps me mentally almost over exaggerate getting the ball to that spot.”
The reference point strategy has been consistently honed in practices with Everitt. Fastballs, off-speed pitches, changeups, and sliders all have different points of focus on Everitt that Frank said he uses before he throws the pitch. Depending on where he wants the pitch to go and the batter he is facing, he has a specific point in mind with the hope of “aim small, miss small.”
Another teammate who has helped Frank along his journey was one who was there from his beginnings at Eastern Oklahoma State College. Frank said that ex-teammate and Nebraska junior catcher Nick Wimmers knows what makes him successful on the mound better than anybody.
Since becoming roommates at Nebraska, their bond has grown closer, as Wimmers has been somebody Frank can go to for advice about anything. Even though Wimmers and Everitt are catchers, Frank says they know more about what makes his pitches successful than Frank himself.
“I don’t want to say Koty was the only reason I came here but he played a big role,” Wimmers said after the BYU game on April 14. “I wanted to get him that win.”
In Frank’s career-best performance against BYU on April 14, Wimmers came through for the offense with the winning RBI in the 1-0 victory.
While teammate chemistry helped Wimmers and Frank commit to Nebraska, it wasn’t the sole reason why. When he was making the jump from junior college to Division I, the world shut down due to COVID-19, and Frank was unable to make in-person visits to any colleges.
Nebraska had shown interest in Frank before the shutdown, but since neither side had seen each other in-person, Frank had to commit due to what he calls a blind trust in the team’s culture.
Frank said he felt the same trust he had when he committed to his junior college, which he similarly never visited in-person and was bringing in a new staff just like Nebraska was with head coach Will Bolt.
One thing that jumped out at him when he arrived was the Huskers’ energy and passion every practice, which justified his blind trust feeling in the process. The coaches weren’t lackadaisical; they were organized, and pushed the players every single day.
The culture and the work Frank put in this season on the mound were recognized after his career night against BYU. Frank initially only planned to go two-or-three innings due to issues with his arm that caused him to miss the previous week of practice.
After three innings, assistant coach Jeff Christy, who works with pitchers and catchers, asked how he felt. Frank said he had no pain, so Christy sent him out there for another inning. Frank ended up matching his career-long innings, and he allowed only one hit in that span.
The monitoring helped him,as it allowed Frank to focus on taking the game one inning, and one pitch at a time.
“I was stuck in the wrong mindset of ‘I’m a starter, I have to go deep in the game,’” Frank said “If you simplify the game down to a bunch of one-pitch games, because you throw that pitch and whatever happens happens and you move on to the next one.”
The one-hit outing was the Huskers’ first since 2019 against Baylor. Because of this feat, Frank won his first Big Ten pitcher of the Week award. The performance also helped lower his ERA to lower than his 4.94 mark in 2021, despite having pitched more innings this season.
“That was vintage Frank,” Nebraska manager Will Bolt said postgame. “When he gets in a windup like that you see the tempo and that’s what we’re trying to get from all of our guys. That’s surprising given everything that’s happened in the past week or so.”
With his injuries behind him, Frank is now focused on improving his starts, and helping lead a late turnaround for the under-500 Nebraska team.
However the Husker baseball season finishes, Frank has earned his way to start on the mound while it does.