Once New Mexico State chose to load the bases and put him at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Efry Cervantes couldn’t wait to go to work against Aggie reliever Alex Bustamonte.
Bustamonte had just given up an RBI single to Garrett Anglim that tied the game at 5. Now he faced Cervantes, who hit just .082 last year in 49 at-bats. But Cervantes has been better with the bat this season—he came into Wednesday’s game with an .194 average but was 0-for-3 when he stepped to the plate in ninth.
The result? A walk-off RBI single through the hole between the second and first basemen to give Nebraska a 6-5 win to seal the two-game series victory over the Aggies and give it a three-game winning streak.
“Fastball away. I was ready to hit from the jump, I wasn’t gonna let them get the first punch, I wanna be the one punching,” Cervantes said after the game. “So I was ready to hit right away, and I got my pitch and did what I had to do.”
Efry Cervantes with the walk-off RBI single to give the #Huskers a 6-5 win over New Mexico State.
Cervantes’ goodbye wave on the way to first caused some commotion in the Aggie dugout, and the NU staff met with them. Cooler heads prevailed.
NU improves to 7-9. pic.twitter.com/2VdU6bNQdX
— Steve Marik (@Steve_Marik) March 16, 2022
Along the way to first, Cervantes turned to the NMSU dugout and waved goodbye, which prompted a discussion among the Aggie and Husker coaching staffs. Cooler heads prevailed and it was ultimately a brief dustup that ended with handshakes between the two sides.
Nebraska trailed for nearly all of the game. The Huskers were down 5-2 in the seventh before the come-from-behind magic started. A big reason for that was the pitching of NMSU’s 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander Rorik Maltrud. The Austin, Texas, native pitched seven innings and struck out seven batters while holding the Nebraska bats to just one hit, a Max Anderson soft blooper that dropped just over the head of the third baseman.
“That was such a weird game. The typical Wednesday 1:30 p.m. game where it was just bizarro world,” Nebraska head coach Will Bolt said. “It felt like they had scored 10 runs in the first three innings, and we kept it close.We’re squaring balls up left and right and every ball they hit is just out of our reach. I just challenged our guys in the middle of that game to just stay in the fight, just keep coming. I was proud of the compete, regardless of what was going on.
“We overcame some tough spots there and showed some heart. This team is starting to climb, starting to find their identity a little bit.”
Maltrud did get a little wild in the fourth, and it helped turn a 3-0 deficit to 3-2. After Core Jackson reached on an error, Anderson blooped his aforementioned single. A wild pitch that found its way to the backstop allowed Jackson and Anderson to move to third and second, respectively, and Jackson stole home after Maltrud recorded his second wild pitch of the inning. Brice Matthews then hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Anderson.
With Maltrud off the mound in the eighth, the Huskers took advantage, and in a big way. With relief pitcher Noah Estrella in the game, Cam Chick stepped to the plate and delivered a two-run home run to right that scored Josh Caron, who reached on an error, the second of the day for the Aggies. Chick came into the game with a batting average of just .143 and was 5-of-35 at the plate. That home run from a strong of nine at-bats without a hit.
“He hits a ball that probably would have been a 450-foot home run yesterday, doesn’t get rewarded for it. Lines out, and a guy makes a circus play at shortstop,” Bolt said of Chick. “He’s taking his walks, got a couple hit-by-pitches, starting to feel him come on a little bit. I mean, he crushed that ball. We’re going to need him. We’re not going to do much without Chick contributing in the lineup. He’s starting to come along.”
Nebraska used six pitchers in the game. Freshman Drew Christo, a highly-touted recruit from nearby Elkhorn, only lasted 23 pitches and didn’t get out of the first inning while giving up three walks and one hit. Jackson Brockett, Braxton Bragg, Tyler Martin, CJ Hood and Emmett Olson all saw relief action, but it was the play of Bragg that stood out.
Bragg, a 6-2, 200-pound junior from Kansas City, threw 4 1/3 innings and only allowed one earned run and four hits. NMSU plated three runs during his time on the mound, but two of them came from an error at short from Jackson, a freshman.
“He saved the game for us,” Bolt said of Bragg. “The game’s going sideways on us, they’re ready to put up a crooked number, and he was amazing. I thought he was on attack, the fastball was great, he was changing speeds, made some big pitches, made a big play there on a comebacker. We don’t win the game without Braxton stabilizing it.”
Nebraska, which improved to 7-9, continues its home stand with a three-game series against Texas A&M Corpus Christi (10-8) beginning on Friday night at 6:35 p.m. Saturday’s game will start at 2:05 p.m. while Sunday’s tilt will be at 12:05 p.m.