Despite the absence of its head coach and heroics from Creighton sluggers Alan Roden and Kyle Hess, the reigning Big Ten champ Nebraska baseball team earned an 11-9 come-from-behind win in its 12-inning fall-ball opener Friday night at Haymarket Park in Lincoln.
Before the 5 p.m. first pitch, NU announced head coach Will Bolt wouldn’t be in attendance after testing positive for COVID-19. Bolt released a statement:
“Out of an abundance of caution, I completed a COVID test this morning and subsequently received a positive result, and I will not be in attendance for tonight’s exhibition,” the statement read. “Our team is otherwise healthy, and our program has followed necessary protocols to support the safety of Nebraska and Creighton student-athletes and staff competing tonight. I look forward to getting back to work with our team as soon as possible as we continue our fall season.”
With the Huskers trailing 8-7 in the bottom of the 10th inning, Nebraska’s Nick Wimmers—a transfer catcher from Eastern Oklahoma State College—reached on an error by Creighton’s third basemen that allowed two runs to score, giving Nebraska a 9-7 lead. The Huskers tacked on two more runs in the half inning thanks to another error and an RBI single from freshman Max Petersen.
Corbin Hawkins, the ninth pitcher used by the Huskers on the night, sealed the win on the mound for the Huskers. Creighton used 12 arms in the game. With Bolt not in the dugout, the head coaching duties fell on assistant Lance Harvell.
As Harvell said following the game, it wasn’t the first time he’s had to fill in for Bolt.
“We were coaching in junior college together and we were playing in a regional. He (Bolt) got thrown out of the game, and rightly so—I’ll go on record saying it was completely justified,” Harvell joked. “So the last time I had to fill in for him was the next game after that, and we got beat and sent home. So I was happy to get off the schneid here tonight filling in for him. I got a W here under my belt, so he can’t hang that loss over me from 10 years ago anymore.”
Nebraska was led at the plate by Efry Cervantes and Griffin Everitt, who both went 2-for-3. The Huskers were helped out by some shaky Bluejay pitching—they scored six unearned runs. Jack Steil led Nebraska with two RBIs while three others—Everitt, Josh Caron and Max Petersen— each had one.
Roden and Hess seemed to enjoy their time in Lincoln. Roden was 3-for-4 with one home run and five RBIs while Hess, a transfer from Notre Dame, went 3-for-4 with two homers over the right-field wall and three RBIs. In all, Creighton blasted four home runs.
Though the lineup the Huskers rolled with on Friday likely isn’t what it will look like for the regular season opener, it does give you a glimpse of who the coaches want to see and where. One of the big questions heading into the spring is what the pitching rotation will look like without key arms from last season like Cade Povich, Chance Hroch, Spencer Schwellenbach and Cam Wynne, who all signed professional baseball contracts.
Pitchers Kyle Perry and Colby Gomes are likely not throwing this fall. Against Creighton, Grand Island native Shay Schanaman started for the Huskers and threw two innings, striking out five batters with one walk and one hit batter. No pitcher threw more than two innings on the night. Freshman Drew Christo, the highly touted recruit from Elkhorn, and Emmett Olson each had two strikeouts.
One of the major questions on the team is in the outfield, where all three starters from last season have departed. On Friday, junior Luke Sartori got the start in center field while freshman Luke Jessen manned left and junior Leighton Banjoff right.
The decision on who to start in the outfield played itself out over the last week and a half, Harvell said.
“These fall scrimmages are really good because you get guys in there, some of these freshmen or new guys that haven’t quite been out there a lot,” Harvell said. “So you get their feet wet a little bit, and at the same time you want to protect them a little bit, too. You want to throw them in the deep end and maybe surround them with some guys who have been in the fire and can keep them calm, so to speak. I thought all our guys really handled everything really well tonight.”
Christo, had a welcome-to-college-baseball moment to begin his Nebraska career. Hess belted his second homer of the game off Christo. But the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder answered well, finishing the top of the ninth with two strikeouts while the bases were loaded.
Harvell said Christo was well-prepared to handle that moment, when things didn’t go as planned. In one of his first inter-squad scrimmages, Harvell said that Banjoff homered off Christo. While he was rounding third, Banjoff told Christo, “Hey, welcome to college baseball.”
“That kid (Christo), he’s so unflappable,” Harvell said. “There’s no moment too big and nothing’s going to rattle him, so he was fine.”
Nebraska will host a second fall-ball exhibition, this time against Wichita State, on Saturday, Oct. 2 at noon.