For much of the Husker baseball fanbase, the attention is set on this weekend’s final Big Ten series of the season against Michigan State.
Nebraska is tied for ninth in the conference standings with Northwestern, so if it’s to qualify for the eight-team tournament that’s playing right down the road in Omaha May 25-29, sweeping the Spartans at Haymarket Park might have to be what’s needed, plus some help from others.
But before the Huskers could give Michigan State their full-fledged attention, they had a Tuesday night non-conference date with the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles of the Summit League. It was a contest Nebraska won, 9-5, which improves their overall record to 21-29. Oral Roberts, a team from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that took two out of three against Omaha last weekend and won the final two games by a combined score of 11-0, dropped to 33-17.
Nebraska outhit Oral Roberts 13-10 and batted .371 as a team and .636 with runners in scoring position. Leighton Banjoff went 3-of-4 at the plate with a team-high three RBIs while Max Anderson went 3-of-4 with two RBIs. Garrett Anglim, a redshirt freshman who came into the game hitting .302, hit his fourth home run of the season.
“Just up and down the lineup, it was very competitive and very team-oriented,” Nebraska head coach Will Bolt said.
Nebraska started right-hander Dawson McCarville on the mound, but he got off to a rough start as Oral Roberts loaded the bases with one out in the first inning thanks to three consecutive singles. After getting a strikeout, McCarville couldn’t escape the trouble as Holden Breeze connected on a two-out, bases-clearing, stand-up double down the left-field line to put the Golden Eagles up 3-0 in the top of the first.
McCarville settled in after that, though, and only allowed two hits in the next four innings without letting in a run. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Grand Canyon transfer left the game after Breeze hit a two-run home run that cut the Huskers’ lead to 8-5 in the sixth. McCarville went five innings and struck out five batters while allowing five runs and eight hits.
“McCarville, after he wobbled early, they didn’t get the knockout blow on him,” Bolt said.
The Husker offense matched Oral Roberts in the bottom of the first. After loading the bases itself with two outs, Cam Chick took home after a wild pitch from Golden Eagles’ starter AJ Archambo. Then Leighton Banjoff hit a two-out, two-run single to right field to tie the game at 3.
After the way Sunday’s 5-4 walk-off loss went in Illinois—a marathon game that began at 2 p.m. and didn’t get over until just before 10 p.m. due to two lengthy weather delays—Bolt was happy with how his team responded.
“Proud of the resilience. We weren’t looking good there in the first inning, it just took a little bit of a spark,” he said.
Nebraska’s bats continued the momentum in the third with a two-run double to the right-field corner from Anderson. That knocked Archambo out of the game after just two innings.
“I was feeling pretty comfortable against that pitcher today,” Anderson said. “He spotted up a few good pitches on the inside corner, and those were some really good pitches, but I was just trying to put the ball in play and move it. It just happened to go right in the perfect spot.”
Right-hander Jakob Hall came in relief, but Banjoff welcomed him with an RBI single that put Big Red on top 6-3. Banjoff flashed his speed and glove in the top of the fourth when he caught a pop-up in foul territory and had to crash into the wall in left field to do so.
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“I thought Banjoff had a great night,” Bolt said.
Nebraska tacked on two more runs to stretch its lead to 8-3 in the fourth thanks to Anglim’s solo homer and a two-out RBI single from Colby Gomes.
Core Jackson, who toughed through an early-game injury and finished the game, gave his team a 9-5 lead in the seventh with an RBI grounder to first that allowed Gomes to score.
While the game against Oral Roberts didn’t count toward the standings, it was still plenty important for Bolt and his crew.
“It’s what we talked to the team about before the game, is that if you want to win, you have to have winning habits,” Bolt said. “You may say that this game doesn’t matter, but you have to come out and have a certain mentality, because you’re not going to be able to just flip that switch when the games do matter, or their bigger, and you’re not going to rise to the occasion.
“So I thought the mindset was awesome tonight, the competitiveness was great. The 50-50 plays we made on defense, and I thought the bullpen did an outstanding job.”
Chandler Benson and Mason Ornelas finished the game on the mound for the Huskers and neither allowed a run. Benson went 1.2 innings and struck out three while giving up just one hit. Ornelas, a Texas A$M transfer, went 2.1 innings and allowed one hit with one strikeout.
Nebraska’s series with Michigan State (23-28, 7-14 in Big Ten) begins Thursday night at 6:35 p.m.