Nebraska baseball split a makeshift doubleheader Tuesday, once again avoiding being swept on the season by an in-state rival after losing the first two matchups.
The first game of the slate was a resumption of the April 18 matchup that was suspended in the seventh inning due to weather. Despite beginning in a favorable position, the Huskers lost that game 6-5. An hour later, a nine-inning game began, which ended with a 7-4 Nebraska win.
According to junior catcher Ben Columbus after the win, the time between the contests included a strong message from fifth-year pitcher Kyle Perry to the rest of the team. Head coach Will Bolt credited the roster’s leaders for inspiring the Huskers to a strong performance in the second game.
“I know there was a message said between games, between the players probably, and it’s great. I mean, we need that,” Bolt said. “This team wants to finish strong, we got to have that from our veterans.”
Whether Nebraska won or lost its final midweek game of the regular season did not matter much in a quantifiable sense. The Huskers are almost certainly not in contention for an at-large bid to NCAA regionals, so their standing in the Big Ten is the most important thing in the final weeks of the season. That being said, Columbus said postgame it was necessary to build momentum heading into the upcoming conference stretch.
The first game, however, was about momentum that had been lost.
Three weeks ago, April’s matchup left off with Nebraska having loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. The Huskers previously trailed 4-1, but had tied it up thanks to a two-run homer by Brice Matthews and an RBI single from Cole Evans. A single, hit-by-pitch and walk had set the scene for them to get back in front.
They did do that, but not in the way the team would have hoped. Gabe Swansen brought in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly, but Josh Caron then grounded into a double play to end the frame there. To begin the top of the eighth, Creighton drew a hit-by-pitch and then hit two RBI doubles to earn back an advantage it didn’t relinquish again.
“We come out and you got bases loaded, nobody out. We get one, and you know, we spoil it. And that sucks,” Perry said postgame. “It sucks because you know, that day that it got [suspended], we were feeling great. We were clicking on all cylinders, and we come out and we don’t finish the job a month later.”
This result gave Creighton the chance to sweep their in-state foes over three season matchups. Early on, that seemed to be the direction the contest was heading. Matthews hit a leadoff homer to give Nebraska the first lead of the game, but the Bluejays responded with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the first.
Matthews had another RBI in the second inning, but so did Creighton on a solo home run. That 3-2 score remained up until the fifth inning, where Casey Burnham singled, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a RBI groundout. The Bluejays, using a number of pitchers throughout the game, struggled to find any consistency on the mound, and that helped the Huskers take the lead.
Columbus doubled to start the sixth inning, and Dylan Carey bunted in hopes of advancing his teammate. This was set to work as intended, but it got even better when the Bluejay pitcher overthrew the short toss to the first baseman, allowing Columbus to score. Later in the inning, Max Anderson hit a double to score two more runs.
Nebraska led 6-3 at the conclusion of the top of the sixth, a margin that had not always been safe for the team this year. The Huskers flirted with danger in the following innings to further that idea — loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth, then allowing two runners on with no outs in the seventh. In the first situation, a run scored, but that was all, and Nebraska extended the lead back to three runs in the top of the seventh.
In the latter scenario, the chance was erased all at once. The Huskers locked up a double play with force outs at third and second, but Max Anderson missed the throw trying to get the triple play at first. Conveniently, that convinced the runner to try for second base, where the throw was made back to Anderson for the final out. It was not an official “triple play,” but the final result of the sequence was equal.
Perry exited a strong 4.1 inning outing after allowing the bases-loaded situation in the sixth. Corbin Hawkins took over from there, and finished the game. Creighton had a hit in each of the final two innings, but that was not nearly enough.
Nebraska’s series losses to Omaha and Creighton still won’t look pretty in reviewing the regular season. But the Huskers ended off the midweek schedule with a win, and that could help the team as it heads into a key series this weekend against Penn State. Nebraska is fighting for a spot in the eight-team Big Ten Tournament, being only a half-game ahead of ninth.
“The momentum needs to be that we’ve got a group of five captains and we’ve got a group of older players that want to show up and give their competitive best and see what happens,” Bolt said. “So we’ll see if that momentum is there. It should be, I mean, you build on a win like this, but momentum can be fleeting if you don’t have the right mindset.”