It could have been a here-we-go-again moment.
Nebraska’s first three batters – Ben Miller, Luke Roskam and Luis Alvarado – singled in the second inning of the Huskers’ 5-2 victory against Michigan State at Hawks Field on Saturday.
Bases loaded. No outs. Jesse Wilkening at the plate.
On an 0-1 count, Wilkening lashed a ball toward third base. The ball appeared it might be foul. But Michigan State third baseman Marty Bechina fielded it – triple play, 5-4-3.
“You don’t see those often at all,” Nebraska’s Mojo Hagge said, understating. “Going from bases loaded and getting nothing with zero outs, I mean, that’s kind of a real punch in the gut.”
But the Huskers took the punch and got off the canvas – to continue the boxing metaphor. They took another punch, allowing two unearned runs with what Coach Darin Erstad called “uncharacteristic” defensive play in the form of two errors, and came away with the victory.
As a result, they moved back into first place in the Big Ten, percentage points ahead of Minnesota, which is playing a non-conference series this weekend; Maryland, which lost to Illinois 11-3; and Michigan, which won a second-in-a-row from Purdue.
“We just kind of kept doing our thing,” Erstad said.
That thing is to “keep grinding,” he said.
And to learn from mistakes.
In the seventh inning of Friday night’s 6-3 loss to the Spartans, Miller came to bat with runners at second and third and only one out. Michigan State brought in reliever Joe Mockbee, a left-hander, to pitch to Miller, who bats left-handed. The first pitch was a ball, the next three strikes, the first called, the second and third swinging, “three straight curveballs,” Miller said.
Fast forward to the sixth inning on Saturday; the Huskers trailed 2-0.
Angelo Altavilla led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Hagge’s single. Scott Schreiber singled, and Michigan State brought in Mockbee to pitch to Miller.
On a 1-2 count, Miller doubled down the left-field line, driving in Schreiber and Hagge.
“We try to take positives out of losing, and one thing that was a positive last night was we got to see all their match-up guys,” said Erstad. “So he (Miller) had a chance to see that slider.”
Mockbee “threw a few fastballs today,” Miller said. “But the one I hit was a slider, right down the line. Sometimes that happens . . . just lucky it stayed fair, I guess.”
Miller followed the two-run double with a dramatic defensive play for an out in the top of the seventh. “I don’t really remember the play. It was so quick that it kind of just happened,” he said.
“But both of those back-to-back was great.”
It was part of a “good team win . . . finish it out there at the end,” said Miller.
Nebraska didn’t finish with a triple play. But the finish must have been no less frustrating. Michigan State loaded the bases against Alvarado, with one out, two on by walks.
Alvarado struck out Chad Roskelly on a 3-2 count. Clean-up hitter Dan Durkin, the next batter, drove Alvarado’s first pitch deep to left. “At first when he hit it and it went straight up into the sun, I was a little worried,” said Hagge, the left-fielder. “But he hit his a little higher than mine.”
The “mine” to which he referred was a deep fly to left to lead off the eighth that Spartan left fielder Bryce Kelley lost in the sun. Hagge ended up at second with a double.
Durkin’s “drifted out of the sun pretty quickly, and it was a pretty routine fly ball,” Hagge said.
As for the wind, “I got used to it throughout the game. Every fly ball was moving a bunch that way,” said Hagge. “And so after I got a couple of reads earlier in the game, it was a little bit easier.”
Hagge was in left field because Alvarado was in center, with Jake Meyers, the regular center fielder, sidelined with stitches in his left hand – his throwing hand.
Meyers is also the Huskers’ Sunday starter. Whether he’ll be on the mound when the Michigan State series concludes beginning at 12:05 p.m. is uncertain.
“We’ll see how he is in the morning,” said Erstad. “We’ll see how he goes through his warm-ups and in the pen, see if that thing holds together, how he feels.
“We’ll plan on starting him and just see where he goes, step-by-step.”
Saturday’s starter Derek Burkamper, a senior, gave Nebraska just what it needed for the second week in a row. He pitched seven innings, allowing five hits and two unearned runs.
“Obviously, I wanted to go out with a bang here,” Burkamper said of his final home start.
“I was a lot more antsy and a lot more nervous than usual, but I did my best not to let that get to me, and for the most part, I think it worked.”
It worked without the aid of a triple play.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.