Jaxon Hallmark of Nebraska celebrates getting to second base
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hallmark the Spark Huskers Need

March 11, 2021

Jaxon Hallmark didn’t hold in his emotion as he left the field in the bottom of the eighth inning of Nebraska’s series-clinching victory against Purdue in Round Rock, Texas, on Sunday.

Had Hallmark “just exhaled and taken a deep breath,” Coach Will Bolt said during a Zoom conference on Wednesday, he (Bolt) probably would have been concerned.

The situation was this . . .

Hallmark had come in from center field to pitch the eighth inning, with the Huskers leading 2-0. After getting the first batter out, Hallmark allowed back-to-back singles, putting runners at first and third.

The coaches’ attitude in the dugout, said Bolt, “was like, ‘Well, you know, let’s leave him in, let’s see if he can make a pitch here to get us off the field.’”

And that’s what Hallmark did.

After Purdue’s Zac Fascia took two changeups called balls, Hallmark threw a fastball. Fascia hit it to shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach, who touched second and threw to first for the double play.

That prompted Hallmark’s show of emotion, rather than a sigh of relief.

“He’s excited when his teammates back him up,” Bolt said. “That type of stuff is contagious, and that’s what we’re looking for from all of our pitchers . . . not everybody’s going to show emotion the same way, but we’ve got to compete at the plate, on the mound, and have that presence.

“When you get in that mode and you get the job done, the emotion comes out.”

Bolt is hoping Nebraska gets the job done and the emotion comes out again this weekend when it plays two games each against Ohio State and Iowa at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The first game, against Ohio State, will begin at 3 p.m. Friday, the second, against Iowa, at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Huskers will then play each team on Sunday, Ohio State at 10 a.m., Iowa at 2 p.m. Since this is Nebraska’s Big Ten-assigned “pod,” the Huskers will be the home team in all four.

Ohio State went 3-1 against Illinois in Greenville, South Carolina, the opening weekend, while Iowa was 1-3 against Michigan, like Nebraska in Round Rock, Texas.

Ohio State and Michigan were the only Big Ten teams receiving votes in this week’s NCBWA poll.

The Buckeyes and Iowa “both have very talented rosters, very veteran rosters,” said Bolt. They are “probably two of the more talented teams and rosters and experienced in our entire league.”

Ohio State also has “dynamic freshmen in their lineup.”

Playing a four-game “series” with two opponents isn’t “what we’re used to,” he said. “But again, we’ve been adaptable . . . when they announced the schedule, that was what we needed to be prepared for. We put the work in from a scouting standpoint the last few days.”

That the games will be played inside also requires some adjustment. The Huskers will work out in U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday night, “just kind of see the configuration and how things work, and seeing balls live off the bat in BP and how the turf plays,” Bolt said.

“Not all turf is created equal. Some plays slower. Some plays really fast.”

The U.S. Bank artificial turf might be similar to that in the Hawks Championship Center, according to Bolt. In any case, “we haven’t really changed preparation this week,” he said.

Nebraska’s starters are slated to be the same, in the same order, as the Purdue series: left-hander Cade Povich, right-hander Chance Hroch, right-hander Shay Schanaman and left-hander Jake Bunz.

Schwellenbach, who pitched the ninth inning of the fourth game against Purdue (his first pitching appearance as a Husker), might work twice in relief this weekend, depending on the situation.

And Hallmark? Whatever is needed.

“He’s a very selfless player, another one of those guys just willing to do what it takes,” Bolt said. “He knew going into this year we were going to use him as a pitcher. He embraced it.

“We asked him to play second base last year. He embraced that. We asked him to play center field this year, he embraced that. The thing you’re going to get from him is he’s never going to be scared. He’s never going to be worried about the moment and failing, ever.”

And he’s never going to hold in his emotions.

“Jaxon, he’s unquestionably our . . . I guess, kind of our spark plug, you could say,” said Bolt. “He’s the most vocal guy. He’s always there to kind of get guys fired up.”

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