Spencer Schwellenbach has a sense of the dramatic. About that, there can be no question.
Consider the ninth inning of Nebraska’s 5-3 victory against top national seed and No. 1-ranked Arkansas Sunday night in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional—a do-or-die game for the Huskers.
Schwellenbach walked the first batter, after retiring seven in a row. With one out, on which the runner advanced to second and went to third on a wild pitch, Schwellenbach walked another.
The two-run lead appeared in jeopardy.
A sellout crowd of 11,084 was encouraging the Razorbacks as Schwellenbach struck out the next batter, then got the final out, a pop-up to Luke Roskam at first.
The count had gone to 3-0 before a strike and then the pop-up. More drama.
“I was running out of gas,” said Schwellenbach, who worked 4.2 innings in relief of starter Kyle Perry, 65 pitches, to earn his third victory and drop his earned-run-average to 0.50.
His “whole body was sore,” Schwellenbach said. He was “just trying to fight through it.”
He had expected to pitch, maybe, the final three innings.
“‘Schwelly’ gave us everything he had,” said Coach Will Bolt.
As did the rest of the Huskers, who, again, were facing elimination. Now they’ll play Arkansas a third time, first pitch 6 p.m. Monday, for the right to advance to a super-regional and face North Carolina State, which won the Ruston (La.) Regional. The last time Nebraska played in a super-regional was 2005, when it last advanced to the College World Series.
Schwellenbach also drove in the tying run with a one-out single in the fifth inning. One out after that, Griffin Everitt singled in two runs, all Schwellenbach the pitcher needed.
Jaxon Hallmark accounted for Nebraska’s first two runs, with a home run in the first inning and a one-out sacrifice fly in the third. Hallmark, Everitt, Joe Acker and Brice Matthews each had two hits in the Huskers’ 10-hit assault. They had 19 hits in an 18-4 victory against NJIT earlier in the day.
The home run was Hallmark’s second of the day. His first was among four Nebraska hit against NJIT. Acker, Matthews and Cam Chick also hit home runs in the first game.
Chick’s, good for three runs, was inside-the-park.
Perry’s pitching performance was as important as Schwellenbach’s, as Nebraska played its fourth game in three days. Everitt, the catcher, described Perry as the “Energizer Bunny.”
He allowed only two earned runs and three hits, walking three and striking out seven, in his longest stint of the season. He threw 73 pitches in only his fourth appearance, all starts.
Perry “competed with the heart of a champion,” said Bolt.
He might have left Perry in for one batter too many, Bolt said. Schwellenbach entered the game with one out and runners at first and third. He got two outs, a strikeout and a fly to center.
Arkansas managed only one hit against Schwellenbach, so only four total—all singles.
Shay Schanaman, who started the NJIT game, also earned mention from Bolt for eating up innings, seven complete, allowing four hits and one earned run.
The attitude among the Huskers immediately afterward was “nothing but pure joy and happiness,” said Everitt. But that would have to quickly be set aside, with their focus turning to Monday’s game.
“We’re fighting for our lives right now,” said Schwellenbach.
Obviously, a loss and the season is over. A victory, and Nebraska would be only the fourth team to eliminate a top-seed in regional play since the NCAA Tournament went to 64 teams in 1999.
Two of the other three also were from the Big Ten, Michigan in 2007, Maryland in 2015.
The message to his team doesn’t change, said Bolt, “we’re just going to keep coming, just show up tomorrow, just like I ask them to do all year.”
Bringing Schwellenbach-type drama is optional.