So we’re back to this with Nebraska baseball: “Gritty beats pretty.”
Not that the Huskers have diverged from that approach. It’s just that their offensive output of late might’ve squeezed those words aside. Afterall, they were leading the Big Ten in batting, with a .296 team average, and a .473 slugging percentage (second).
And they were averaging nearly eight runs a game.
Nebraska did score nine runs on Sunday in taking two of three from Michigan State in East Lansing. But it took the Huskers 12 innings to earn the 9-6 victory.
And if not for grit, they wouldn’t have had a 12th inning in which to score three runs.
This grit doesn’t show up in the boxscore, except as an assist for center fielder Jaxon Hallmark and a putout for catcher Griffin Everitt. Hallmark’s throw came after catching a fly ball for the second out and a runner at second base, a pinch runner it should be noted, so he probably had some speed.
There were other examples of the Huskers’ grit, of course. In the 12th inning, Spencer Schwellenbach led off with a walk, stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw by the catcher, as Cam Chick struck out. Max Anderson then singled Schwellenbach home for the only run Nebraska would need.
Specifically, the only run Schwellenbach needed. The Husker closer, who had never worked more than two innings this season, pitched four scoreless, 65 pitches, to earn the win.
He walked two, his only walks in 14 innings now, struck out two and gave up four hits.
He got a ground out with runners at second and third to escape the 10th inning, and a diving catch by Mojo Hagge in left, with a runner at second, to end the game—more grit.
Such things were required after Nebraska took a 6-0 lead after two, aided by five walks and a hit batter. From the third inning through the 11th, the Huskers managed only three hits and struck out 16 times. They struck out 22 times in the game and 44 times during the series.
Another example of grit over the weekend was the pitching of Cade Povich and Jake Bunz on Friday, when they combined on a five-hit, 4-0 victory. Povich worked the first seven innings to earn the win, his fourth against one loss, and drop his earned-run average to 3.11
Chance Hroch worked six innings on Saturday, striking out six without a walk and allowing four runs, three of which were earned. But the Huskers managed only five hits and two runs in support.
The lone extra-base hit was Luke Roskam’s home run for a short-lived 2-1 lead.
Michigan State responded with two runs in the fifth and added a run in the seventh for the 4-2 victory. Nebraska managed only one hit over the final five innings.
Anderson was 3-for-6 with four RBIs in Sunday’s game. And Efry Cervantes, who had been hitless in his last 29 at-bats, singled in a pair of insurance runs after Anderson’s RBI single.
Hallmark was 3-for-15 in the three games but continues to lead the Huskers with a .355 batting average. Anderson, 0-for-6 before Sunday, is second at .333, with 25 RBIs, second to Chick’s 28.
Nebraska gained ground in the Big Ten race, after Michigan lost its final two games of the weekend at home against Rutgers, dropping behind Indiana, based on percentage, from second to third. The Hoosiers swept Minnesota in Bloomington, including a 23-1 victory Sunday.
Indiana is 18-8 (.692), Michigan 19-9 (.678).
Nebraska is 20-7 (.741) going into a three-game series against Rutgers (14-13) at Haymarket Park this weekend. The Huskers have played only seven home games and will go back on the road for four games—two each against Indiana and Rutgers in Piscataway—after the Rutgers series, before finishing the regular season with six of their final 10 games at home.
They will play a pair of games against Indiana in a four-game pod in Bloomington as well, before finishing with three against Michigan at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park.
Clearly, they will need some grit to succeed.
UPDATE: On Monday, shortly after this story was published, Nebraska made its season debut in two national polls. The Huskers were ranked 22nd in the D1Baseball poll and 24th in the Baseball America poll. Nebraska also climbed to 19th in the rankings from Perfect Game. The Huskers were first ranked in that poll on April 12.
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.