You stretch in the seventh inning. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. The Huskers sweat in the seventh inning Thursday. Cal Poly scored five in the seventh frame to wrestle back a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, handing the Huskers their first home-opening loss in over 40 seasons.
The Huskers sailed through the seventh on Friday. Senior Luis Alvarado started on the mound for the Big Red, gave them seven innings — a career-long — of scoreless ball and Nebraska (7-6) cruised to a 4-0 win over Cal Poly (6-8) to even the weekend series at one game apiece.
The contrast between Thursday and Friday was stark, in more ways than just the outcome. The Huskers used six pitchers Thursday, who combined to give up 14 runs on 13 hits. Of the 39 batters they faced, they struck out four. Everyone had a run given up on their watch. The Huskers needed one pitcher and one reliever to put the Mustangs away Friday. Alvarado fanned eight — one off a career high — and retired 20 of the 26 batters he faced.
“That’s what your Friday guy does,” head coach Darin Erstad said. “We needed that depth for him to go out and do that. He was trying to find some kind of breaking ball early, he just didn’t have command of that, but like he’s done a couple times this year he just doesn’t panic, keeps working his way through and finds his way through the game.”
Alvarado said the slider came later in the game, adding he felt his changeup never came at all, but his fastball was there from the get-go.
“You’ve got to work with what you have,” he said.
The senior finished with 115 pitches. He said that’s up there in terms of numbers throughout his entire career. He didn’t know he was in the hundreds. “It didn’t bother me,” he said. “I felt good.”
Behind Alvarado, the defense looked night and day from Thursday. Where there were three errors and what Erstad thought was a slip in energy late Thursday, there was squeaky clean, error-free play all day Friday.
"That’s our foundation of how we play,” Erstad said. “It was good to see them bounce back.”
Alvarado said everyone felt in sync. He gave up a one-out single in the top of the third and his defense responded by turning a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame without any damage. Sophomore outfielder Joe Acker said the routine, the batting practice pregame, the mood in the dugout, it all felt the same. The Huskers just maintained things the full nine innings this time. “We learned from our mistakes,” he said, and, yes, Alvarado throwing daggers on the mound helped.
“It’s huge when you’ve got a pitcher on the mound that’s just pounding strikes and getting outs,” Acker said. “It’s contagious, to say the least, for all of us defenders and even hitters. It keeps the game up and the tempo is perfect.”
The bats weren’t rolling like Thursday, but they didn’t need to. Nebraska sent one across in the third, added two more in the fourth and tacked on a solo homer in the eighth for good measure. Acker took a trip around the base paths to open the scoring. Freshman Gunner Hellstrom — easily the greatest baseball name in baseball name history — got his first career start and responded with his first career hit, an RBI single in the fourth.
Erstad liked the way his young … guns … showed against a tough left-handed pitcher in Cal Poly’s Trent Shelton (6.2 IP, three earned, seven strikeouts).
“It’s nice to see them contribute,” he said. “They’re ready, just a matter of getting them in there.”
Nebraska will wrap up the series with the Mustangs Saturday, with a double-header beginning at 12:05 p.m. CT and then again at 4:00 p.m. CT.
"We’ll be ready to play tomorrow,” Alvarado said.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.