Nebraska baseball’s hopes of making the eight-team Big Ten Tournament right down the road in Omaha continue to be on life support.
The Huskers came into Thursday night’s home game against Michigan State with a Big Ten record of 8-13 and tied for ninth in the conference standings with Northwestern. Big Red needed a big game against the Spartans, but it never came thanks to an offense that couldn’t figure out Michigan State right-hander Conner Tomasic.
Nebraska lost 4-1 to the Spartans, who improved to 8-14 in the conference, same as the Huskers. Purdue lost to Maryland, dropping its conference mark to 9-12. The Huskers would make up ground on the Boilermakers if they win the last two games against Michigan State and Purdue is swept by the Terps.
The Husker offense was outhit 10-8 and never got the clutch hit it needed—it was 0-of-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base. The Spartans, on the other hand, batted .357 (5-of-14) with RISP.
Big Red had an opportunity to make something happen in the bottom of the ninth when it loaded the bases with one out, but it couldn’t cash in as freshman Josh Caron and senior Cam Chick struck out. Core Jackson, another freshman, was hit by a pitch in the middle of the strikeouts to score the team’s only run.
After one of the best offensive games of the season two nights ago against Oral Roberts, the Huskers’ struggles at the plate surprised head coach Will Bolt.
“The timely hitting obviously wasn’t there either,” Bolt said. “We left some runners on early and just didn’t knock them in.”
Tomasic, a 6-foot-1, 177-pounder from Indiana who started his career at Purdue before transferring to South Suburban Community College in Illinois and then to Michigan State, threw 6.1 innings of scoreless baseball. He struck out two, walked one and allowed just five hits.
In Tomasic’s last two starts against Iowa and Penn State, he gave up four and three runs, respectively. But against the Husker lineup, he was hard to hit. Tomasic’s stuff isn’t what you typically see from a Friday starter, Bolt said.
“A lot of changeups,” Bolt said. “Early on, I felt like we had him on the ropes a little bit, and Max (Anderson) probably hits a ball 400 feet, but that’s baseball. That’s why you have to keep coming. You can’t rely on just one or two good swings. You have to have production up and down the lineup, and when you get your opportunities you have to knock them down.
“That’s the name of the game in baseball, timely hitting.”
Griffin Everitt, who went 1-of-4 at the plate, said Tomasic wasn’t doing anything special on the mound. The balls just didn’t find open grass much Thursday night.
“It was just one of those days where it seemed like everything we were hitting was just right at them,” Everitt said. “We hit some balls good but just didn’t really have anything to show for it.”
Jackson Brockett started on the mound for the Huskers. The left-handed freshman from Omaha went lasted three innings and struck out two batters with one walk while allowing three runs and four hits. Shay Schanaman came in relief, finishing the final six innings and not allowing an earned run. The Grand Island, Nebraska, native struck out six and gave up six hits.
Michigan State got on the board first in the second inning with what appeared to be a fly ball to deep left from Brock Vrandenburg. However, the wind carried it over the fence for a solo home run, his fourth of the season.
The Spartans tacked on a couple more runs in the third to take a 3-0 edge. With a runner on second, Casey Mayes hit a single to right field. Garrett Anglim scooped up the ball and fired to home to catch the runner. The throw arrived at the plate well before the runner did, but Everitt couldn’t execute the catch, and the runner was safe. One pitch later, Bryan Broecker hit an RBI triple to center that put Michigan State on top 3-0.
The Huskers were close to getting out of the eighth without giving up a run, but an error kept that from happening. With two outs and a runner on third, Schanaman struck out a Spartan, but Everitt dropped the third strike. He then committed an error on the throw to first, which hit the base runner in the back. A run scored, and the Huskers were trailing 4-0.
Game two of the series is Friday at 6:30 p.m. Left-hander Emmett Olson will get the start.
More news and notes
>> The Husker lineup featured shortstop Brice Matthews for the first time in seven games. Matthews tweaked a knee in pregame warmups May 6 at Minnesota and hasn’t played defensively since with one at-bat last Sunday at Illinois. In his first-at bat on Thursday, the Texas native roped a single past the shortstop. He finished 1-of-2 with two walks.