Brice Matthews crushed it.
— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) May 21, 2022
With two runners on and a 1-2 count at the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning in a must-win game, Matthews, a sophomore from Texas, obliterated a pitch from Michigan State reliever Kyle Bischoff. The three-run home run broke a 3-all tie and traveled an estimated 437 feet to dead center to give the Huskers a 6-3 lead.
Reliever Koty Frank did the rest in the top of the ninth, forcing a groundout and two strikeouts to seal the win and keep Nebraska’s postseason hopes alive.
“Just tried to stay on the heater, stick to our approach,” Matthews said after the game. “Those two guys in front of me (Colby Gomes and Leighton Banjoff) did their jobs, had really good at-bats. They made it easier for me to go up there and hit the ball.”
With the win, Nebraska’s conference record moves to 9-14. The Huskers are still able to make the eight-team Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, but they need to beat the Spartans again on Saturday and have Maryland beat Purdue, currently sitting eighth in the conference standings. The Terps handed the Boilermakers an 18-7 loss on Friday and are scheduled to play again on Saturday, but there’s rain in the forecast for West Lafayette, Indiana. If the game isn’t played, Purdue doesn’t have a chance to lose it and therefore would be the No. 8 seed of the tournament at 9-12, ending Nebraska’s season.
“What a swing, especially with two strikes and given the situation, and given our struggles early in the game to move the ball when we needed to,” Nebraska head coach Will Bolt said. “Certainly wasn’t expecting a home run with two strikes, but what a big-time swing from a big-time player.”
Nebraska outhit Michigan State 9-5 and batted .333 (2-of-6) with runners in scoring position. Matthews and Gomes each had two hits and one home run. Gomes’ tied the game at 1 with a leadoff jack in the second inning. Matthews’ three RBIs led the team while Max Anderson had a two-run single in the third that gave the Huskers a 3-1 lead.
The Huskers got a quality start on the mound from left-handed sophomore Emmett Olson, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Illinois. Olson went seven strong innings and gave up three runs and five hits while striking out seven batters without issuing a walk. Olson said his fastball command and other pitches were working Friday night.
“My slider was kind of my out pitch I used all day today,” Olson said. “The curveball I went to a couple times, but the slider was the main thing that was working and I kept trusting coach (Jeff) Christy’s pitch calls, and it went pretty well.”
Frank finished off the Spartans and threw two innings, striking out three with two walks.
Following a single and hit-by-pitch from Garrett Anglim to set the plate for Anderson in the third, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year came through at the plate when he connected on a two-run single to left field that hopped over the head of the drawn-in third baseman. Those runs gave Big Red a 3-1 lead, which was later cut to 3-2 in the fourth after a solo homer run from Trent Farquhar, his fifth of the season.
Nebraska had an opportunity to increase its 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth, but couldn’t do it. The Huskers had runners on first and third with no outs thanks to back-to-back singles from Matthews and Luke Jessen that knocked Spartans’ starter Harrison Cook out of the game.
What followed wasn’t pretty. Nine-hole hitter Efry Cervantes and leadoff man Cam Chick both stuck out while Anglim hit a soft grounder to first to end the threat and keep the Huskers’ lead to just one run at 3-2. That stretch came back to bite the Huskers as Michigan State tied the game at 3 with a two-out RBI triple in the sixth from Casey Mayes, his seventh and Big Ten-leading three-bagger of the year.
Gomes got the something going in the eighth with a one-out ground-rule double, then Leighton Banjoff drew a walk. After a wild pitch advanced both runners, Matthews, who missed seven games after tweaking a knee in pregame warmups at Minnesota May 6, blasted the game-winning home run, his seventh longball of the season.
“Man, he went out and made an unbelievable play on defense, and he’s not even 100 percent right now. He’s been sitting for two weeks, and I know it’s been tough for him as we get down the stretch and he hasn’t been playing. We needed somebody to step up. We needed somebody to get the big hit, and Brice, he’s delivered a lot of them in his short career up to this point.”
The two teams traded solo home runs in the second inning.
First up was Jack Frank, who bombed his ninth homer of the season to give his team a 1-0 edge at the time. When Frank, a 5-11, 201-pounder from Ohio, got to the dugout he was met by a group of vocal teammates who placed an ancient golden Spartan helmet on his head. A few minutes later, Gomes tied the game in the bottom of the frame with his own solo shot to the right-center gap, his seventh of the season.
Up next for the Huskers is a must-win game Saturday at 12:05 p.m.