The sun broke through the clouds at Hawks Field on Sunday just before Jaxon Hallmark’s three-run home run with one out in the bottom of the fifth. That proved to be the difference in Nebraska’s 8-5 victory against Arizona State.
Seriously, the sun had come out.
Hallmark’s second home run of the season gave the Huskers a 7-3 lead, to which Arizona State responded with solo home runs in the sixth and seventh. The Sun Devils had three home runs for the game, and eight during the series. Nebraska matched them on Sunday, however.
Cam Chick hit a solo home run in the first, and Alex Henwood followed with a two-run home run in the second. Henwood also had a double and went 3-for-4 in the game.
His opportunity to hit for the cycle was erased when he was intentionally walked with two out in the eighth even through Angelo Altavilla was at first base.
Altavilla had singled in the Huskers’ final run.
When was the last time Henwood was intentionally walked?
“I would probably say never in his life,” Coach Darin Erstad said.
Henwood, who went into the game hitting .233, didn’t necessarily disagree. “Maybe (in) high school was the last time,” he said. “It’s been a while, if at all.”
Both coach and player answered with good humor. After all, the Huskers had rebounded from a 15-6 loss on Friday night to take the series. They last won a series in mid-April, sweeping Penn State, the last-place team in the Big Ten. Since then, Nebraska had dropped three series, all in conference play.
“We knew we needed a jumpstart somewhere,” said Henwood. “Really, honestly, Nate was that guy. He went out for us and he saw what happened Friday and he wasn’t afraid.”
Henwood was referring to Nate Fisher, who pitched the first 5.1 innings to earn Saturday’s 2-1 victory. “He went out there and he shoved it down their throats, really,” Henwood said.
Reece Eddins, Sunday’s starter, picked up where Fisher left off, surviving a three-run second and working six innings to earn his sixth win in eight decisions.
“We were planning for him not even getting out of the second,” said Erstad. “You talk about the biggest three-run-inning-minimize job, that was it right there, to get out of it with only three runs.
“They could’ve easily put us away right there.”
Next up for the Huskers is a regular-season-ending Big Ten series against conference-leading Michigan at Hawks Field beginning on Thursday night. With that in mind . . .
Do Whatever It Takes
Nebraska’s hitters struck out 34 times during the Arizona State series, and they were out-hit in each of the games. Yet they managed to find ways to win, defensively as well as offensively.
Catcher Luke Roskam threw out two baserunners attempting to steal second base in the first inning of Sunday’s game, after the Sun Devils had runners at first and third and only one out. “That was huge,” Eddins said. “He’s my best friend now. That was really exciting, really killed their (potential) rally. I think it might’ve been in the back of their minds going forward.”
The Huskers were opportunistic in the fifth inning, before Hallmark’s home run, scoring a go-ahead run when lead-batter Spencer Schwellenbach was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, advanced to third on Henwood’s double and scored on a wild pitch.
Still, there were opportunities missed. Nebraska left 12 runners on base in Sunday’s game, and 29 for the weekend. When the hits are limited, the Huskers need to make the most of what is given to them.
Arizona State pitchers walked 10 on Sunday. Only two of the walks scored.
Stick With It
Like Henwood, Hallmark has been scuffling at the plate. He was hitting .218 going into Sunday’s game, with one home run—an inside-the-park grand slam at Kansas State in early April. The key at this point, “I guess (is) just stay positive and keeping putting good swings on balls,” Erstad said. “For Jaxon it’s about just swinging at good pitches . . . That’s why you compete.
“Down the stretch, you have to have players make good plays and do really cool things if you want to be good, and Jaxon works as hard as anybody and competes.”
That’s critical for Nebraska as it plays Michigan and goes into the Big Ten Tournament. Only two Huskers are hitting over .300, Aaron Palensky (.343) and Joe Acker (.302).
Acker missed the Arizona State series for personal reasons.
Though he’s still hitting only .236, senior Angelo Altavilla went 4-for-7 in the final two ASU games. Altavilla also made a highlight-reel play at third base in Saturday’s game.
Mojo Hagge excelled defensively in the outfield. Though he was only 2-for-9 during the ASU series, he had hit .409 in his previous 10 games. His average is up to .282, third on the team behind Palensky and Acker, evidence of how he has stuck with it.
From Here On
As any coach will say, it’s one game at a time, but IF the Huskers somehow managed a three-game sweep of conference leader Michigan, their conference records would be tied at 16-8. Right now, Nebraska and Minnesota are tied for third (at 13-8) behind the Wolverines and Indiana (14-7), which took two-of-three from Michigan this weekend.
Indiana finishes the regular season with three games against Rutgers (9-11) in Bloomington. Illinois (12-8) is fifth, Iowa (12-9) sixth. Everyone else has a losing conference record.
In other words, the situation is fluid.
“We’re in playoff baseball,” Erstad said. “There’s no room for error at all. It’s one of those things where you throw out what your numbers are to this point. You throw out whether the other team’s better than you on paper. It’s all about fighting this time of year and who gets the job done.”
Considering the start, the Huskers got the job done this weekend.
“Our guys didn’t back down the last two days and found a way,” said Erstad.
He needs to be able to say that next weekend and beyond if Nebraska has an opportunity to play in an NCAA regional. But first, Michigan.
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.