If the Nebraska baseball team wanted to qualify for the eight-team Big Ten Tournament in Omaha May 25-29, it needed to take care of business on the road against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the last-place team in the conference standings.
But that business wasn’t taken care of.
After winning Saturday night’s game two 9-8 in 12 innings, the Gophers beat the Huskers again on Sunday, this time by the score of 3-1 to win the series. It was Minnesota’s first conference series win of the season.
Nebraska came into the game tied for eighth in the Big Ten standings with Northwestern and Indiana, but with the loss drops to 7-11 in the conference. Both Northwestern and Indiana were in action Sunday. Northwestern lost to Ohio State and drops to 7-11 while Indiana beat Michigan to improve to 8-10.
Nebraska’s offense never got rolling against Minnesota’s pitching staff, which came into the game 10th in the Big Ten in team earned-run average (6.27). The Huskers scored just one run in the last 14 innings against Minnesota.
On the mound for Nebraska was Jackson Brockett, a freshman from Omaha who made just his third start of the season. Brockett did his job, throwing 5.1 innings while giving up just one run and four hits. He had out a career-high seven strikeouts against one walk.
Brockett never got run support, though, as the Huskers batted just .167 (5-of-30) in the loss. Minnesota starter Aidan Maldonado, a 6-foot, 170-pounder, went seven innings and allowed just one run and five hits while striking out eight with one walk. Gopher reliever Jack Liffrig, who came into the game with an ERA of 8.77, tossed two innings of scoreless baseball and Nebraska couldn’t get a hit off him.
Minnesota broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth when Boston Merila led off the inning with a double. After a groundout moved Merila to third, Riley Swenson put the Gophers up 1-0 on the Huskers with a sacrifice fly. Big Red responded right away, however.
Maldonado was moving right along in the first half the game. He wound up sitting down 10 straight Huskers before Core Jackson ripped a double to right field in the top of the fifth. After the speedy Jackson easily stole third base one pitch later, Gabe Swansen brought Jackson home with an RBI double to the left-center gap to tie the game at one.
There was more trouble for Brockett in the fifth, but he got out of it to unscathed. For the second consecutive inning, Minnesota got a leadoff double, this one from Drew Stahl. Stahl was moved to third on a groundout, but Brockett responded by forcing a pop up to center and striking out Andrew Wilhite for the third out to keep the game tied at 1.
Brockett’s day was done after he allowed a double and walked another batter in the sixth. Dawson McCarville came out of the bullpen to relieve Brockett and was able to get the final two outs.
The Gophers’ offense started to get to McCarville in the seventh, though. Minnesota’s Noah Berghammer hit his first homer of the season—this one with two outs—to give his team a 2-1 advantage. Then Chase Stanke gave his team an insurance run in the eighth with an RBI groundout.
Nebraska’s final three outs included a line-out, walk and double play to end the game. The Huskers lost the game despite outhitting Minnesota with runners on base and in scoring position. The Huskers recorded five hits while Minnesota had seven. Jackson had two hits.
Next up for the Huskers is a three-game series on the road at Illinois beginning Friday. Game one is slated for a 6 p.m. CT first pitch while Saturday’s will be 3 p.m. and Sunday’s 2 p.m.