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Husker Bats Come Through to Avoid Arizona State Sweep

March 01, 2020

Let’s focus on the final game of the Nebraska baseball team’s series against Arizona State in Phoenix, set aside the first two games—OK, the Huskers lost 13-5 and 14-1. Enough said?

An 18-10 victory is more interesting.

Sunday’s game had a feel similar to that of the first two after the Sun Devils took a 5-0 lead into the third inning. But Nebraska, which managed only six hits Saturday night and trailed 12-1 before generating some offense Friday night, put up six runs in the top of the third inning Sunday afternoon.

The Huskers showed grit and determination, having been outscored 32-6 in the first 20 innings of the series. The big hit in the third inning was Leighton Banjoff’s grand slam.

The freshman from Sheffield Village, Ohio, hit a solo home run in his next at-bat and an RBI-double when he came to bat a second time in that seven-run fifth inning.

Cam Chick hit a two-run home run and Joe Acker hit a solo home run in the fifth, which also included a two-run double by Luke Roskam.

The last time Nebraska hit three home runs in one inning was 2010, against Houston Baptist.

Jaxon Hallmark, who returned to action after being sidelined by a knee injury early in the season-opener, hit a two-run home run to complete the scoring in the eighth inning.

The Huskers continued to push, even though the Wildcats tied the score at eight after four.

Starter Cade Povich was charged with the eight runs, all of them earned. But he made it through five innings to earn the victory, his first at Nebraska after losses in his first two starts.

To his credit, Povich continued to battle despite a four-run second and a three-run fourth. And though he allowed 10 hits, including two home runs, he didn’t walk anyone, while striking out seven. He has pitched 14.2 innings now, with 22 strikeouts and only one walk.

Paul Tillotson and Trey Kissack finished Sunday’s game in relief.

Arizona State, which went into the weekend with a team batting average of .218, had 38 hits in the three games, against 14 Husker pitchers, four of them true freshmen. Sayer Diederich, Quinn Mason and Ethan Bradford all made their first collegiate appearances, Braxton Bragg his second.

Bragg pitched 1.2 scoreless innings on Friday night.

Redshirt freshman Caleb Feekin made his third appearance this season in the series.

Gareth Stroh, Friday night’s starter the first two weekends, didn’t make the trip to Phoenix because arm issues. Max Schreiber started in his place, allowing three earned runs in three innings.

Hallmark was 5-for-12 in his return and is batting .467. 

Aaron Palensky was 4-for-9—he was walked three times on Sunday, once intentionally—during the series, with solo home runs in the first two games and a two-run double in the third to increase his team-high RBI total to 14. He’s batting .364 with a .758 slugging percentage.

Banjoff took over the team lead in batting average among those with at least 27 official at-bats. He was 4-for-6 on Sunday and is hitting .370. He and Chick, who’s batting .310, have each driven in nine runs for second behind Palensky. The home run on Sunday was Chick’s third of the season.

The 2-7 Huskers are scheduled to open the home schedule with a four-game series against Columbia this weekend, followed by two mid-week games against Northern Colorado.

Columbia dropped its first three games of the season at Fresno State over the weekend, with a fourth scheduled for Sunday night.

Nebraska’s pitching needs to settle in; for one thing, that means better control. Friday night, for example, Husker pitchers walked 10, hit five and threw four wild pitches. And Husker batters need to cut down on strikeouts; they struck out 30 times in Phoenix to bring their season’s total to 81.

No great insight in either of those points. For what it’s worth, Nebraska pitchers didn’t walk anyone on Sunday. If they had, Arizona State’s 13 hits might’ve meant more runs. 

And the Husker batters did strike out nine times. But 17 hits, combined with six walks and a hit batter, were more than enough to get the job done—and provide something worth writing about.

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