Nebraska baseball scores six in the seventh to down Rutgers 9-7
With the help of two three-run homers and a six-run seventh inning, Nebraska baseball came back to beat Rutgers 9-7 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Huskers allowed six unanswered runs and fell behind 6-3 entering the seventh before countering with six runs of their own. Nebraska held on for dear life and overcame its pitching struggles with stellar defense to grind out the victory.
Head coach Will Bolt earned his first win at the Big Ten Tournament as Nebraska moved to 32-21-1 on the season.
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Controversy struck in the bottom half of the first after the game’s first five batters went down in order.
Christian Coppola mowed down the first two Husker bats with ease. Then Max Anderson came to the plate and rolled a swinging bunt back to the pitcher. Originally, Anderson was called out at first but on review the call was overturned.
Gabe Swansen walked immediately after and Charlie Fischer followed with a three-run blast into the bullpen in left. Just like that, Nebraska had jumpstarted the crowd and held a 3-0 lead through one.
Trouble found Emmett Olson in the fifth after he walked Rutgers’ No. 8 and No. 9 batters to open the frame. A near double play wiped out one of those runners but a sacrifice fly to right got the Scarlet Knights on the board. A two-out single from Chris Brito followed by a Evan Sleight double tied the game up at 3-3.
The Huskers turned to Corbin Hawkins who tallied the final out of the inning via a popup to second. Hawkins worked through the sixth and retired the Rutgers bats in order. After a leadoff single and sacrfice bunt, Nebraska made its second pitching change of the afternoon and called Shay Schanaman from the pen.
The Huskers’ closer struggled with command and didn’t get any early help from his defense either. An error, two walks and a hit batter quickly put Rutgers ahead 6-3.
It didn’t take Nebraska long to respond. Scarlet Knight reliever Grant Besser plunked Casey Burnham to leadoff the home half of the seventh. Anderson doubled and that set the table for Swansen who blasted his 18th home run of the season to left-center.
That prompted a new pitcher from the Scarlet Knights who brought in closer Ben Gorski. The right-hander collected the first two outs with ease but the third proved elusive. Gorski allowed a single and then walked four of the next five batters. Nebraska scratched across three more runs and led 9-6 after seven.
Kyle Perry took the hill in the eighth and walked the leadoff batter en route to allowing a double and RBI single that cut the Husker advantage to 9-7. Will Walsh relieved Perry and with the help of a wicked 5-4-3 double play turned by Carey and Anderson he escaped the jam. The left-hander went on to close it out and earn the win working around a two-out single in the ninth.
A crucial first win
The last 25 winners of the Big Ten Tournament won their first-round game.
“The first team that loses never makes it that far in the tournament,” Swansen said. “So I mean, obviously winning the first game was really important for us today.”
Swansen’s three-run homer in the seventh reignited the Huskers’ hopes. That energy started in the dugout after the previous inning.
“You’ve got to be a little fired up,” Swansen said. “You’ve got to be a little motivated to back in the game and our guys did a great job of doing team at-bats. We hat a lot of HBPs and walks that set up a lot of big innings for us. Put it for the other guys. I mean, they set up a lot of innings that we were able to execute on.”
Nebraska found a way to win without playing a perfect game. That builds confidence and springs from the team’s chemistry according to Fischer.
“At the end of the day if we don’t do everything correctly, we still have a chance to win just in the sense of bouncing back and picking each other up,” Fischer said. “There were some tough innings whether it was not punching home runs or on the bump as well. Just knowing that you’ve got each other’s back was the biggest thing today.”
It’s the type of game Bolt said his squad hasn’t faced too often this season.
“I’m proud of our guys for just staying in the fight, because that game was pretty topsy-turvy,” Bolt said. “We had some guys that have been really good for us. They weren’t great today, but we had some guys pick them up as well. That’s what you’ve got to have to win a tournament like that. You’ve got to have some guys step up.”
Husker bullpen status update
Wednesday’s pitching was far from pretty. Olson cruised through the first four innings before faltering in the fifth. That pitching trend carried throughout the rest of the afternoon. Schanaman and Perry struggled to throw strikes and Hawkins had a shorter outing than usual. In spite of that, the Huskers’ staff stuck to the bullpen plan.
“We felt like Hawkins was the right move and he stabilized the game just like he had some many times for us,” Bolt said. “Once they got a runner in scoring position we went with the strikeout guy with Shay. Unfortunately, Shay didn’t have it today and we had to make the move to the next guy, Kyle Perry, who has been nothing but dominant the last couple times he’s taken the ball. He didn’t have it today.”
Bolt said at that point Nebraska was just searching for someone to throw strikes.
“I didn’t really have, on my baseball bingo card, Will Walsh finishing the game tonight,” Bolt said. “But it’s why you’ve got to have a strong roster full of guys that are ready to go compete.”
So where will the Huskers turn against the Big Ten’s top offense on Thursday? It’ll start with Jace Kaminska who allowed seven earned runs in his last meeting with the Terps. Bolt has confidence in his No. 2 arm.
“He’s been really, really good in his last two outings,” Bolt said. “He’s bounced back and his stuff has been outstanding. He just needs to attack the strike zone. They have a tough lineup and they’re gonna make you throw the ball over the plate. Jace has done that at a pretty high level.”
Bolt added that there are still plenty of arms available for Thursday including Jackson Brockett, Jake Bunz, Brett Sears and Michael Garza.
What’s next for Nebraska baseball?
Nebraska faces Maryland in a rematch of the series in College Park earlier this month. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m. Thursday evening and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Fans can listen to the action on the Huskers Radio Network.