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Defense overcomes errors to slide by Omaha

Web gems by Jake Schleppenbach helped the Huskers overcome a season-high in errors in Wednesday's 3-1 win.
Web gems by Jake Schleppenbach helped the Huskers overcome a season-high in errors in Wednesday's 3-1 win.

FINAL STATS

PAPILLION, Neb. - On a night when the Husker offense couldn’t get it going, the bullpen once again came up huge to help Nebraska outlast Omaha 3-1 Wednesday.

The victory was the 12th in 15 games for Nebraska (17-10-1), which beat Omaha for the ninth straight time, but the Huskers had to overcome a season-high in errors (3) and a hitting drought that lasted more than three innings.

Head coach Darin Erstad knew his team was in danger of a letdown tonight, but said it was important to get the win.

“We knew exactly what was at stake with maybe a letdown, coming here bringing 24 guys instead of having everybody here,” Erstad said after the game. “We were in a situation where we had to play good baseball and we didn’t. This is the best crappy game we’ve had all year, and we’ll take it and get out of here."

The Huskers looked like they were about to make Wednesday’s game a walk in Werner Park in the first inning, when Scott Schreiber hit an RBI single to right that scored Jake Meyers from second base. But the Huskers left runners on first and second in the inning, keeping it a one-run game.

Sophomore right-hander Ethan Frazier put the first three Omaha batters down in the bottom of the first (thanks to a 1-3-6-2 pick off of Cole Thibodeau on a steal attempt), but the Mavericks (6-22) evened the game on a Parker Smejkal RBI single in the second inning.

The Huskers loaded the bases with two outs in the third inning, but Luis Alvarado pelted one straight back to pitcher Shane Meltz that bounced off the right-hander’s shin. Meltz fielded it cleanly and tossed it to first to end the inning.

Omaha right-hander James Smith came in and retired nine straight Husker batters before Luke Roskam finally punched one through in the seventh. Alex Henwood pinch ran for Roskam, advanced to third on a Jake Schleppenbach single to right, and scored on Smith’s only wild pitch to give the Huskers a 2-1 lead.

Schleppenbach’s heroics on offense were preceded by his defensive prowess in the sixth, when a two-out bases loaded grounder was hit deep in the infield. The senior chased it down well behind the bag and threw a spinning back-foot dart to Ben Miller at first base that ended the inning and kept the score deadlocked at the time.

“I just got a good jump on the ball,” Schleppenbach said. “We knew they didn’t have a great runner at the plate, so we just made a play.”

The Husker bullpen was dominant down the stretch, allowing just one hit over the final five innings. Jake McSteen and Chad Luensmann rendered the Maverick bats useless, with McSteen getting the win and Luensmann picking up his fifth save over 2.1 innings.

While Nebraska had near parallel opposite performances in the two midweek games, Erstad and his players are adamant about baseball being a give and take game. Afterwards, they were just happy to win.

“You’re going to have to win ugly sometimes, and we won ugly tonight,” Erstad said. “I’ll take it.”

The Huskers take on #24 Maryland this weekend in Lincoln. The Terrapins (18-8) were picked by every major publication to win the Big Ten in 2017. First pitch from Haymarket Park is set for 6:35 p.m. Friday.