Before Brice Matthews took the walk to first base, he turned to the Nebraska dugout fired up.
The Huskers were yet to score any runs in the eighth inning, and faced a significant deficit. However, they were fighting back. Matthews had just battled through a 10-pitch at-bat, drawing a walk to end it. That loaded the bases with no outs and the second, third and fourth hitters in the batting order next up. Earlier in the game, Nebraska had turned a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 lead. Now it trailed 10-6, but was set up perfectly to at least cut the difference.
Omaha pitcher Rans Sanders had other plans. He faced Cole Evans, Max Anderson and Charlie Fischer, striking all three out.
The in-state opponents finished the game with some similarities when it came to less glamorous statistics. They both walked eight batters. Nebraska left 11 runners on base, Omaha stranded 12. Each side had at least one wild pitch and an error. But as the game continued, one team made plays when it needed them most, and it wasn’t the Huskers.
“They beat us in every aspect of the game and they deserve to win,” Bolt said postgame. “They made big pitches when they needed to. They got the big hits when they needed to. They moved the ball when they needed to and they made plays when they needed to. So they whooped us tonight. I know the scoreboard, maybe it was closer than that. But yeah, we didn’t really do a whole lot well tonight.”
The first three innings painted a much different picture than the one the head coach described. Starting pitcher Michael Garza kept the Mavericks scoreless in that span, giving up some hits and throwing a wild pitch but ending the first two innings with a double play and a strikeout, respectively.
Omaha’s starter, Charlie Bell, started even hotter. He retired six of the first seven Huskers he faced, the only baserunner being walked. Nebraska’s offense woke up in the bottom of the third inning, however, placing runners on the corners with no outs thanks to a walk and single. Cole Evans and Max Anderson each followed with one-out RBI singles to give their team a 2-0 lead.
While Bell was the first to give up runs, Garza was the first to leave the mound. Caleb Clark entered to begin the fourth inning, and things immediately changed. Clark faced four batters, and all of them got on base — the first two on first-pitch singles, and the back half on walks. The second walk brought in Omaha’s first run, and the freshman pitcher’s day came to an end.
Mason Ornelas was next up, and he walked the first two Mavericks he faced to make it four straight free bases and three runs in a row walked in. Another run scored before the half-inning ended, then Ornelas started the fifth inning by hitting a batter and committing a throwing error. He was taken out after that, and Omaha hit an RBI single against Corbin Hawkins to stretch the lead to 5-2.
The difference in performance between Garza and the relievers was stark, and the starter could have stayed in longer. Bolt said he took him out early because he may be needed in a three-game series against Nicholls later this week.
Nebraska took the lead back with a four-run bottom of the fifth inning, featuring four hits and two walks. The Huskers led 6-5 at that point, but didn’t score again, and that wasn’t going to be enough given the pitching performances.
Omaha drew two walks against Shay Schanaman in the top of the sixth inning, then hit a two-out double to bring both of those runners home. Schanaman walked Devin Hurdle in the seventh inning, who scored thanks to a low throw from Matthews that snuck past the glove of first baseman Will Walsh.
The Mavericks’ eighth-inning two-run home run put the finishing touches on the 10-6 lead, and Sanders’ strikeouts were even more demoralizing.
This loss was perhaps the team’s worst showing since the opening weekend, with the only loss between those times coming against a top-five opponent. Nebraska finished with eight walks, two hit-by-pitches, two wild pitches and three errors. Matthews was credited with one, and it wasn’t the aforementioned iffy throw to Walsh in the seventh inning.
“We played lazy, we played sloppy, and that was the difference,” Matthews said postgame. “We didn’t compete as hard as they did. Myself included, so we got to be better on that.”
Nebraska’s opportunity to do that comes soon in a neutral-site series against Nicholls. In Manhattan, Kansas, the Huskers will play one game on Thursday and a Friday doubleheader.