Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Baseball

Huskers Build Big Lead Early, Hang On Late for 7-6 Win

March 18, 2018
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Finally, after 20 singles over two days, Nebraska managed an extra-base hit. Not just an extra-base hit but a home run. And not just a home run, but a grand slam.

Luke Roskam hit the grand slam to complete a six-run bottom of the third in the Cornhuskers’ 7-6 victory against Northwestern State at Hawks Field on Sunday, as they once again responded to a series-opening loss – which they’ve now done in all three home series.

They lost the first two games of a series at Wichita State.

Nebraska had two more extra-base hits, doubles by Zac Luckey and Mojo Hagge, who scored what proved to be the winning run on Angelo Altavilla’s sacrifice fly with one out in the seventh. Hagge had advanced to third base on what would’ve been the second out if not for an error.

Roskam’s grand slam came on a 2-2 count. “Yesterday they tried to go inside on me a lot, so the one I fouled off was inside pitch and I kind of figured it was going to be an inside fastball or curveball,” he said. “I just reacted to an inside fastball and got the barrel on it and it went out.”

Roskam was 2-for-3 on Sunday, after going 2-for-4 on Saturday, to raise his average to .282.

The Huskers again showed resilience in the wake of Saturday’s 6-2 loss.

“I think being able to take punches and giving them back, I don’t know if we come out focused enough, for (a) better term,” said Roskam. “We always come back and focus on that Sunday, try to get that last win, knowing that we got a little break coming up.”

There’s not much of a break. Nebraska plays at Oral Roberts on Tuesday and Wednesday before opening Big Ten play with three games against Minnesota at Hawks Field next weekend.

Nebraska’s ability to respond is reflected in the fact that it hasn’t lost the final game of a series (excluding tournaments) since mid-April of 2016 at Michigan, when they were swept.

Series starts have been a different matter of late. “Obviously, it’s my job to get them ready to play and I haven’t found the right buttons to push yet,” Coach Darin Erstad said. “It seems like when we have days off and we come in, we’re just not as sharp as we normally are, and then once we get punched in the face a little a couple of times, we tend to get a little angry. We’ve got to get that going a little sooner, but it’s in there. They have the ability to play high-level baseball.”

Northwestern State also showed resilience on Sunday, responding to the 6-0 deficit with two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth against Husker starter Matt Warren.

Despite the runs, Warren retained his stuff better than he has, according to Erstad. “It was sharper. He was a little more angry through those couple of innings,” Erstad said.

“The stuff did hold a little bit better, which was very good to see.”

Zack Engelken, Paul Tillotson and Jake Hohensee finished off the game.

Tillotson struck out the side in his only inning, the eighth. “He’s still not back to full strength, but he’s made some pitches and he’s had some good outings, some up-and-down type of outings, but he’s a guy that likes the ball at the end of the game and did a nice job,” said Erstad.

Tillotson sat out a medical redshirt last season.

Hohensee allowed a one-out home run in the ninth and was credited with the save, his fourth.

Though conference play is close at-hand, Erstad is still trying to identify where the pieces of his 11-8 team all fit. It’s an “every minute of the . . . as we go forward trying to figure it out,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of noise, just a lot of things that we need to clean up that aren’t there yet. We’ve just got to find another level of commitment to get ready to go on this road trip tomorrow.”

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