As fifth-year pitcher Kyle Perry faced what would be the last batter of the game, the Haymarket Park crowd was already on its feet.
Unlike the prior two matchups of the weekend, Penn State was challenging Nebraska. Despite never leading after the opening inning, the Nittany Lions stayed within range, making defensive plays and collecting 10 hits on the day. In both the fourth and seventh innings, they cut a three-run Husker lead to just one.
That didn’t matter to the crowd, nor did Nebraska’s shaky track record in these situations. It had blown late leads previously this season, and failed to close out potential sweeps. On Senior Day, and in the last home game of the season, fans clapped with the confidence that Perry would deliver the final out, and he did. The pitcher, who had recently helped lead the Huskers through a midweek split against Creighton and expressed his frustration with the team’s underachievements afterwards, celebrated the game-sealing strikeout with a fist pump.
“The crowds were amazing all weekend and I thought we performed really, really well in front of some big crowds and the crowds had a lot to do with it,” head coach Will Bolt said postgame. “I thought our guys handled themselves well on an emotional day.”
The 8-5 victory capped off Nebraska’s sweep of Penn State, with the Huskers having won the first two games 19-5 and 5-2. While Friday and Saturday were mostly uncompetitive, Sunday was comprised of the Nittany Lions making pushes and Nebraska responding.
“It was a good back-and-forth ball game,” Bolt said. “Good to see us stay in the fight when things were kind of going not our way.”
The series-opener was close too, for a time. Through four innings, Nebraska led 2-0, earning both those runs on Brice Matthews’ 20th homer of the year. Penn State had recorded one single and one walk against Husker ace Emmett Olson, with both of those successful plate appearances being followed with double plays.
The Nittany Lions finally broke through in the fifth, with two solo homers tying the game. Not only did that score change by the end of the inning, but it was no longer competitive.
In the bottom of the fifth, Efry Cervantes started things off by reaching on an error. A Matthews single and passed ball put Cervantes in position to score on a sacrifice bunt. Max Anderson then scored Matthews with a hit, and the next three batters took first on walks and a hit-by-pitch. Those free passes and a sacrifice fly made it 6-2 with two on and two outs. Nebraska still didn’t let up. Dylan Carey followed with a triple, and Cervantes came up with an RBI double.
Matthews was caught going for his 20th steal of the year to end a seven-run ninth inning. The Huskers posted two more crooked numbers before the game ended, with a six-run seventh inning and a four-run eighth.
Penn State committed four errors down the stretch, a trend that extended into Saturday. There, Nebraska scored the first two runs of the game in the bottom of the second inning with the help of a fielding error to start the frame and throwing error later on. That marked six errors in six innings for the Nittany Lions, not counting Friday’s unplayed bottom of the ninth.
Nebraska extended that 2-0 advantage in the fourth inning, putting two on with no outs and then executing a sacrifice bunt followed by a sac fly. That made it 3-0, and RBI singles from Cole Evans and Cervantes gave Nebraska five runs. Cervantes pulled his hamstring preparing to round first on his hit, an injury that kept him out Sunday.
Jace Kaminska shut down the opponent in seven innings of work on Saturday, and Shay Schanaman was also effective in closing it out. The couple notable mistakes were Penn State’s two solo home runs in the seventh to make the score respectable. The Nittany Lions only had two hits besides that, along with a walk and a runner reaching on an error. All of those four baserunners came in different innings, and only two advanced into scoring position.
“Dominant,” Evans said in describing Kaminska’s performance. “We’ve seen spurts of that… That’s kind of what we expect out of every time he rolls out there.”
After 10 seniors were honored ahead of Sunday’s game, the Huskers did not come out and dominate right away. With two outs in the top of the first, Penn State followed a single with a double that unluckily bounced off third base to get past Carey. Starting pitcher Will Walsh looked like he’d get Nebraska out of the inning unharmed when the next batter hit a ground ball, but the throw from Brice Matthews missed, allowing a run to score.
As was the case when Penn State tied the game Friday, Nebraska responded quickly. Matthews drew a leadoff walk, Casey Burnham laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Anderson doubled to tie it up. The Nittany Lions made a diving catch on Gabe Swansen’s deep fly ball in the next at-bat, but Anderson tagged up and scored from second on the play. Josh Caron added a solo home run to make it 3-1 after one inning.
This day, the Huskers missed their chances to break the game open. They loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, adding one run on a hit-by-pitch. Anderson then grounded into an inning-ending double play. Nebraska fell victim to a double play again in the third, and back-to-back lineouts kept it from capitalizing with two runners in scoring position in the fourth.
In the top of the fourth, a two-run homer with no outs brought Penn State within a run. Swansen pushed the lead back to three in the bottom of the fifth with his own two-run blast, and then was called on to do so again in the eighth. The Nittany Lions had scored two runs in the seventh to make the score 6-5, and the Huskers had one last chance to extend their lead before the ninth. With a runner on, Burnham drew a two-out walk, and Anderson was intentionally walked to load the bases.
That brought a motivated Swansen to the plate, who delivered with a two-run double. His homer came against that same pitcher, and he said postgame that he was ready to come through again upon seeing that the opponent preferred to pitch to him.
“They intentionally walk Max because they want to get to me,” Swansen said. “So it’s like, you live for those moments and being able to do it is, all the hard work just pays off.”
Nebraska has now clinched a spot in the conference tournament, a storyline that Bolt and players said the team was not paying too much attention to. The Huskers can still land anywhere from first to eighth in the Big Ten. That will be determined next weekend as the Huskers head to Purdue for the final series of the regular season.