Now that was a painful way to begin.
For Kansas State, not Nebraska.
Wildcats starter Caleb Littlejim threw 22 pitches, walked the first three Huskers he faced, hit the fourth, Scott Schreiber, and allowed a single to Ben Miller before giving way.
By innings’ end, Nebraska had six runs, the last three coming on a bases-loaded double by Jake Schleppenbach – the third scoring on an error. So much for suspense.
“Their pitcher kind of got off to a struggle the first inning and we kind of built off of that,” Husker shortstop Angelo Altavilla said following the 11-1 victory at Hawks Field Tuesday night.
The first inning “definitely relaxed us,” he said.
Well, “relaxed” wasn’t exactly the word. There’s no relaxing in baseball.
“It gave us momentum in the later innings,” said Altavilla, who went 2-for-4 and scored two runs before Coach Darin Erstad began going to his bench. The Huskers used 15 position players, 14 batted, and five pitchers. Matt Waldron started and pitched a predetermined three innings, hitless and scoreless, to earn his second victory against two losses. He threw 40 pitches.
He was limited “so we could have him on the weekend,” Erstad said.
Nebraska opens Big Ten play in a three-game series at Indiana beginning on Friday.
The Huskers went up and down in order in three of four scoreless innings following the first before adding five runs in their last three at-bats, responding to Kansas State’s lone run in the sixth.
Freshman Luke Roskam accounted for the game’s final run with his first collegiate home run, pinch-hitting for Miller, who went 2-for-3 with a run-batted-in.
Kansas State’s starting lineup had a combined 19 home runs, seven triples and 29 doubles so despite his team’s fast start, Erstad didn’t relax.
“When it was even 9-1 I’m like, ‘How many guys am I taking out of the lineup?’ Because who knows what happens against those guys . . . they’re never going to quit fighting,” he said.
The Wildcats managed only three singles off the four Nebraska pitchers who followed Waldron. The lone run was a result of a Reece Eddins walk, a wild pitch, a single and a fielder’s choice.
“We haven’t played our best baseball,” Erstad said. “We’ve pitched pretty well, playing good defense. Hitting, it’s got to come. We have to get it rolling.
“It was good to see Ben Miller swing the bat well. That was encouraging. He’s driven in a lot of big runs for us, so if things even out, we’re going to be pretty happy through Big Ten play.”
Miller, a senior, has struggled at the plate this season. He went into the game with a .155 average. He batted .317 with six home runs and 46 runs-batted-in last season.
In addition, “we’ve got to continue to get on base at the top of the order, and we’ve got to find a way to get on base consistently throughout the lineup,” said Erstad.
“We can’t rely on half the lineup getting on base on a consistent basis, so we did a better job of that today, at times. We’re going to have to get even better in conference 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.