Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Huskers Make the Most of an Impromptu ‘Championship Sunday’

May 24, 2021

As Will Bolt remembers it, Curtis Ledbetter, Nebraska’s director of operations, came to him in the dugout in the fifth inning of the Huskers’ 9-0 victory against Ohio State on Sunday in Bloomington, Indiana, and said: “It’s ‘championship Sunday’ today.”

“I kinda got where he was coming from,” Bolt said during a Zoom conference afterward.

In this case, “championship Sunday” was code for, Maryland’s 7-3 victory against Michigan in Ann Arbor, giving the Terrapins the series, two-games-to-one.

“Championship Sunday” was code for, victory would mean a Big Ten championship and an automatic NCAA regional bid regardless of what happens against Michigan this weekend in Lincoln.

About the seventh inning, the Maryland-Michigan score was posted on the Indiana scoreboard.

That’s when the Husker players knew they were Big Ten champs––if they won.

The chances were good at that point. The score was already 9-0.

Still, you never know. Nebraska trailed Ohio State 9-2 going into the seventh inning of the first of two games on Saturday. The Huskers scored five in the seventh, four in the ninth and won 11-9.

And Maryland led Michigan 8-0 going into the seventh of Friday’s opener in their three-game series, before being taken to two extra innings, before winning 11-8.

Anyway, Nebraska held onto the comfortable lead for its eighth consecutive victory, including two against Indiana also over the weekend, to improve to 29-11. The Huskers, who weren’t picked in the preseason top six by conference coaches, last won a Big Ten regular-season title in 2017.

“Super seniors” Joe Acker, Luke Roskam and Mojo Hagge were on that 2017 team and elected to return for a fifth season when the NCAA granted the extra season because of the COVID pandemic.

Acker and Hagge are co-captains, along with Jaxon Hallmark and Spencer Schwellenbach. They’ve played an important role in the championship season. “I had a conversation with them on that Monday, right after that weekend and said, ‘Look, we’re still a great team. Let’s make sure that nobody’s going to hit the panic button here. We’re going to keep working. And we’re going to keep showing up. We’re going to keep playing good baseball,’” Bolt said.

That weekend” referred to a three-game series against Rutgers at Haymarket Park, April 30 to May 2. The Huskers lost all three games, the third by 6-0.

“That was a tough weekend, obviously,” said Bolt.

Nebraska rebounded, however, winning nine of the next 10, the lone loss 4-2 to Indiana in a four-game pod in Piscataway, New Jersey. The Huskers won one from the Hoosiers and two from Rutgers, then won two against Northwestern in Lincoln to set the stage for the Bloomington pod.

Nebraska opened with an 8-5 victory against Indiana on Friday, then beat the Hoosiers in a second game on Saturday 3-1, behind the pitching of Chance Hroch, who went the distance, allowing three hits, striking out 10 and walking only one. The lone hit was a two-out home run in the ninth.

On Sunday, five pitchers combined on the shutout Hroch didn’t quite get.

Starter Kyle Perry pitched two innings and was credited with the victory. He and the four others allowed five hits, struck out 14 and also walked only one.

The Huskers had 13 hits, with eight of the nine in the starting lineup driving in a run. Max Anderson went 3-for-5. Hallmark and Roskam each had two hits, one of Hallmark’s a home run.

Hallmark also hit a home run and an RBI triple for what proved to be the winning run in the 11-9 victory against Ohio State. Griffin Everitt hit a one-out, two-run home run to tie the score at 9, then struggled around the bases because he was cramping up.

Brice Matthews hit a solo home run and RBI triple in the 3-1 victory. Matthews also drove in three runs—on a bases-loaded double, his third of the season—as did Anderson in the opening-night victory.

Bolt got Gatorade dumped in his face in celebration on Sunday, and his post-game interview on the Big Ten Network was interrupted by a swarm of Huskers.

“We always talk about the tougher team wins just about every time, on every given day,” Bolt said during the Zoom conference following the game.

“The most mentally tough team is going to be the most focused team, the team that’s most dedicated to play team baseball on any given day, the most competitive team, the team that’s most able to put aside any sort of distractions of outside variables and just (go) out and compete.”

Once again, that was Nebraska.

This time on “championship Sunday.”

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