Things didn’t go exactly as Nebraska fans might have imagined early on, when the Huskers opened NCAA regional play against Northeastern Friday night in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Yes, the Huskers won, 8-6, to advance to a game against overall-No. 1 seed Arkansas on Saturday, with the first pitch scheduled for 8 p.m.
The host Razorbacks hit five home runs on the way to a 13-8 victory against NJIT. As with Nebraska, they didn’t start the way their fans might have imagined, either, falling behind 3-0.
Three innings into Friday night’s game, the Huskers trailed 4-0 and starter Cade Povich, so reliable all season, was struggling. When they came off the field in the third inning, after Northeastern had scored three runs, Coach Will Bolt called them together.
“I really didn’t feel like we came out with the aggressive mindset that we usually see,” Bolt said during a post-game Zoom conference. “So I just reminded them, ‘Let’s not get caught up in the score and let our emotions get the best of us, hit the panic button.’”
Instead, he told his team to be more aggressive.
Mojo Hagge and Griffin Everitt hit back-to-back, one-out singles in the bottom of the third, but were left on base. The hits were Nebraska’s first.
Spencer Schwellenbach led off the fourth with a single but was forced at second, after Luke Roskam had popped up to short. Two outs.
At that point, things changed, dramatically.
Cam Chick described the Husker offense as a “ticking time bomb.”
And so it was.
Brice Matthews walked, and with two on and the count two-balls-no-strikes, Chick was sitting on a fastball—which he got, igniting the bomb with a three-run home run.
“That was a huge swing right there,” Bolt said, understating.
In the fifth inning, Jaxon Hallmark tripled with one out and scored on Schwellenbach’s sacrifice fly.
Nebraska never looked back, scoring three in the sixth and one in the seventh.
When the bomb went off, Povich had been replaced by Koty Frank, who retired the first 11 batters he faced before walking the first two batters in the eighth and giving way to Jake Bunz.
The walks scored. But Frank had done his job—and was credited with the win. Bunz pitched to only three batters before Bolt called on Schwellenbach to register his 10th save.
Schwellenbach left the bases-loaded in the eighth and two on in the ninth.
Frank’s success was due, mainly, to a change-up, “which is very odd because I’ve been working on that all year, and I’ve just now been able to kind of start throwing it with more command than normally, earlier in the year,” said Frank. “Earlier in the year, it was kind of an iffy pitch . . .”
Not so Friday night.
Now, “I’m 100-percent committed to it,” he said.
Every Husker in the starting line-up had at least one hit. Hagge, Everitt and Joe Acker each had two. By game’s end, it looked more like Nebraska baseball.
Early on, “I felt like we were a little bit on our heels, especially offensively,” Bolt said.
The Huskers will need their feet firmly on the ground Saturday night, against an Arkansas team that has hit 98 home runs. “For us, it’s just keeping our head down and moving forward, one game at a time, and just having that mindset of, ‘We don’t care who it is on the other side, we’re going to play our brand of baseball,’” said Frank. “We’re going to stay within us. We’re going to stick to our approach.”
That approach didn’t show early in Friday’s game. But when it did . . .
Bolt’s words to the team in the third inning helped. He told his players to “have fun, loosen up, the tighter you are, the worse you play,” Chick said.
Hitting a three-run home run in such a situation can certainly be described as “fun.”
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.