Jack Steil put an exclamation point on the Nebraska baseball team’s third consecutive victory and season-opening series win against Purdue in Round Rock, Texas, on Sunday.
The Husker freshman drove a one-out, three-two pitch well over the left field fence at Dell Diamond Stadium, a two-run home run—Efry Cervantes was on second after drawing a walk and advancing on Griffin Everitt’s sacrifice—that increased the lead to what would be the final score, 4-0.
As it turned out, junior Spencer Schwellenbach had provided seven pitchers Nebraska used—beginning with Jake Bunz, a transfer from Hutchinson Community College who worked three scoreless innings—the only necessary run with a solo home run, also to left, with two out in the first.
Steil drove in the other run with a two-out double in the top of the second.
Schwellenbach’s name is familiar to Husker fans. But Bunz? Steil? Cervantes? Everitt?
Steil is a freshman, Cervantes and Everitt are junior college transfers. They were among nine newcomers who saw action for Nebraska over the weekend.
Everitt started three games at catcher and “caught amazingly well” in handling the seven pitchers on Sunday, Coach Will Bolt said on the Husker Network’s post-game show.
Cervantes started the final three games at shortstop. And Steil started at first base on Sunday. He played first base for two innings off the bench in the first game of a Saturday double-header but didn’t bat. The double came in his first plate appearance as a Husker.
Max Anderson, another freshman, also had an auspicious first at-bat at Nebraska, hitting a home run to lead off the second inning of the opener, the weekend’s lone loss. Anderson, who started the first game at third base and the other three as the designated hitter, finished the weekend 8-of-15 (.533) with a team-high five runs-batted-in. He was walked three times on Sunday.
Brice Matthews, yet another freshman who started all four games at second base, had four RBIs, as did senior outfielder Joe Acker, who batted .429 and hit a home run as well. It came in the top of the eighth of the first game to give the Huskers a 5-4 lead—which they couldn’t hold.
Matthews singled in his first at-bat as a Husker.
Purdue won with a run in the bottom of the eighth and then a one-out, walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. After the frustrating start, the Huskers came back to win 7-2 behind Chance Hroch’s six innings in the seven-inning first game of the double-header and Shay Schanaman’s one-hit six innings in the 10-0 second game, also seven innings because of a “mercy” rule.
Hroch is a graduate transfer from New Mexico State, Schanaman a junior, moved into the starting rotation after working as a reliever his first two seasons.
Senior Max Schreiber, who took the loss in relief in the first game, was credited with the win in the fourth game. He “got back on the horse,” Bolt said during his post-game show.
Schwellenbach also took the mound for the first time at Nebraska, striking out the first two batters he faced before allowing a single in a scoreless ninth in the series finale.
As Bolt said before the team headed to Texas, it was all-hands-on-deck for the Huskers. Twenty-four players saw action, including 12 pitchers, only Schreiber and Cam Wynne, a transfer from Texas A&M, working twice.
Wynne pitched two hitless innings.
The frustration of the first game was, in part, self-inflicted. The Huskers had a series-high 15 hits, left 13 runners on base and struck out 15 times; they struck out 16 times in the fourth game and 46 times during the series, an obvious area of concern.
The hits diminished with each game: 15, 12, seven and four. But pitching, defense—the Huskers committed only one error—and timely hitting made the point moot.
Because the series was Purdue’s Big Ten-assigned “pod,” Nebraska was the visitor in all four games. The Huskers’ “pod” is scheduled for this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where they will play two games each against Ohio State and Iowa, beginning with single games on Friday and Saturday and concluding with a Sunday double-header.