Ben Miller’s remarkable hitting was a subplot to the Nebraska-Maryland series this weekend. The story was the Huskers’ winning the series with an 8-4 victory at Hawks Field on Sunday.
Miller went 4-for-5 and drove in three runs to lead Nebraska’s offense in support of Jake Meyers, who pitched 7.1 innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs, walking one and striking out four, before giving way to Chad Luensmann, who finished.
Meyers “just grinds; that’s what he does,” said Coach Darin Erstad. “He’s fun to watch compete.”
The same with Miller. “Like I’ve said from the second I’ve been with him, the man can flat-out hit,” Erstad said of the senior first baseman. “He’s the least of our worries. He’s going to get his hits.”
The thing is, the balls Miller was hitting earlier this season weren’t dropping, and his batting average was below .200. It had climbed to .211 going into the weekend, well below the standard Miller has set for himself. He batted .316 as a freshman, .279 as a sophomore and .317 last season.
He’s batting .278 now, after going 10-for-13 against the Terrapins (.769). He hit two doubles, scored four runs and drove in three runs, all on Sunday. His slugging percentage was .923.
Those are rub-your-eyes-and-look-again numbers.
And he produced them even though “I’ve gotten a lot of two strikes almost every at-bat this weekend,” he said. “I guess I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable there, but (I) don’t panic.”
Miller had a 2-2 count in the fifth inning, with Mojo Hagge on third and Meyers on second, when he doubled to drive them in and increase Nebraska’s lead to 4-1.
“He’s fun to watch hit,” said Meyers. “I was on second base when he roped that ball into left center. That was a heck of an at-bat. He fouled off some tough pitches and laid off some tough pitches.
“He’s really getting it going now, and it’s really fun to watch.”
Specifically, Miller fouled off four pitches before driving the ball into left center.
Before he batted, Maryland brought in reliever Jared Price, whose first pitch was wild, allowing Hagge and Meyers to advance and leaving first base open.
The Terrapins might have walked Miller, who had six consecutive hits over two games, but chose to pitch to him. That wasn’t a surprise. “I thought they were going to pitch to me,” Miller said. “I had plenty of time to think about the at-bat and stuck to the same approach as always.”
He would get an eighth consecutive hit before striking out in his final at-bat.
Nebraska rebounded from an 8-5 loss on Saturday, a performance that caused Erstad to describe Sunday’s game as “identity building.” And the Huskers responded.
“It was a pleasure to watch them play baseball today,” he said.
There was nothing he had to say to his players on Sunday.
“In this situation, I heard a lot of voices in the dugout, the ones that I like to hear, so when they’re saying what they need to say, I just get out of the way,” said Erstad. It was a “complete player effort and win. They did it all themselves, and it was a credit to how they went about their business.”
None more so than Miller, who was focused throughout the weekend.
How big did the ball look when the pitcher released it, a reporter asked.
“I wouldn’t say it looks that big,” Miller said. “Once you think you’ve got hitting down, it’ll come back and bite you in the butt. So I’m just going to keep competing and try to do good still.”
>>Nebraska is 19-11-1 and 4-1-1 in the Big Ten, good for second behind Minnesota (6-0), which didn’t play a conference series this weekend. Maryland (20-10, 6-3) is tied with Michigan for third. The Huskers play at Kansas State on Tuesday night before returning to Hawks Field for a Big Ten weekend series against Iowa.
>>Official attendance over the weekend was 19,705, including 6,695 on Sunday
>>The Huskers won the series despite the fact that the second, third and fourth batters in the lineup – Angelo Altavilla, Meyers and Scott Schreiber – were a combined 2-for-34.
>>Senior second baseman Jake Schleppenbach hit his second career home run with Jesse Wilkening on base, in the sixth inning, responding to a two-run home run by Maryland’s Marty Costes in the top of the inning.
>>Wilkening also drove in two runs in the game.
>>Hagge went 3-for-5 and third baseman Mike Waldron went 2-for-4 in addition to playing well defensively, drawing mention from Meyers. “My defense is what really carries me throughout games, has gotten me my success,” said Meyers, who is now 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA.
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.