The first of Nebraska’s two-game set against Northern Colorado on Tuesday was a something of a learning experience, Husker Coach Will Bolt said following Wednesday’s game.
At least early on it was.
As the game went on, however, “we lost our focus as far as what had kind of gotten us to the eight runs early,” he said. That was reflected in trying to “do too much.”
Nebraska scored the eight runs, on nine hits, in the first three innings, with Aaron Palensky driving in five of the runs with a home run and a double.
But the Huskers didn’t score another run, or get a hit, the rest of the way, which didn’t matter since five pitchers allowed only one run and three hits.
Tuesday, three Nebraska pitchers allowed four hits and no runs in a 1-0 victory.
The two victories were a “good way to finish off” a six-game homestand. The 7-8 Huskers are scheduled to play a four-game series at Wichita State this weekend.
The eight pitchers Nebraska used against Northern Colorado included three freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors, among them Jaxon Hallmark, who made his first mound appearance this season; he played second base the first eight innings, and drove in two runs.
“He’s got a good arm,” Bolt said. “We might use him at the end of a game at some point if we need him, and so we wanted to see that.”
Hallmark pitched four times in relief last season.
Sophomore Shay Schanaman earned Tuesday’s victory, allowing only one hit and striking out six, without a walk, in five innings of relief. Sophomore Braxton Bragg pitched the first three innings, and junior Paul Tillotson earned the save, striking out the side in the ninth.
Freshman Quinn Mason got his first collegiate start on Wednesday, allowing one hit over three innings to earn the victory. He was followed by freshmen Ethan Bradford, who struck out four in two innings, and Kyle Wisch, and sophomore Tyler Martin before Hallmark finished up.
Hallmark didn’t allow a hit or walk and struck out two.
Wisch pitched for the first time in his collegiate career.
Mason had pitched twice in relief. “I thought he was very competitive; that’s where we’ve seen kind of a change from him is he went from not quite sure that he could get guys out, even though he throws with good stuff up there, to (where) he’s kind of had a switch in mindset that he’s going to compete with his best stuff,” said Bolt. “I thought he did a good job today.”
Mason allowed one hit, walked one and struck out two.
Bolt said the same of Bradford, who had struggled in one relief appearance. His effort on Wednesday reflected “kind of one of the messages to the team as far as just kind of having . . . you can see a shift in confidence there, right in the middle of an at-bat, in an inning, in a game,” Bolt said.
Mason struggled throwing his first three pitches, said Bolt. “It just took strike one and then he’s like, “OK,” then here comes another one and all of a sudden you could see that confidence grow.
“The tempo gets better. His stuff has always been good. (But) the belief needs to be there all the time. So it was really good to see him . . . just kind of switch that mentality.”
Freshman Luke Boynton went 3-for-7 in the two games and is batting .423 (with 26 official at-bats) to lead the Huskers. Hallmark also was 3-for-7 and is batting .368.
Palensky is batting .302 and leads the team with 19 runs-batted-in and is tied with Cam Chick for the team lead in home runs with four. Spencer Schwellenbach hit his first home run of the season on Wednesday.
The two home runs (and eight runs early) might’ve caused Husker batters to lose their focus, according to Bolt. “You see a couple of balls fly out of the ballpark early, extra-base hits, you start thinking, ‘I’m going to go get mine,’” he said. “That’s not the way this game works.
“You’ve got to take what they give you. I guess most of our home runs have come as an accident. We’ve hit more home runs . . . at this point in the season than probably these guys are used to. But it’s got to come from being a team-wide approach.”
Nebraska hit 35 home runs in 56 games last season. They’ve already hit 17 this season.
Fifteen games into the season, Bolt is looking for focus for nine innings. “I think that’s going to be our next step,” he said, “because we’ve seen some really good things this homestand from the pitchers attacking the strike zone. We’re starting to figure out the guys that are going to be dependable out of the bullpen. We’re running pretty much the same guys out there offensively.
“It’s just a matter of having that every-day-player mentality where you’re going to be able to stay focused for the entire game.”
As for defense, “I think we’re in a much better spot there than where we were two weeks ago,” Bolt said. “So we’ve come a long way that way.”