Huskers overcome adversity on Senior Day in 8-7 victory
LINCOLN, Neb. - For one final time, the Husker seniors came away with a comeback victory at Haymarket Park, defeating Michigan State 8-7 in their Senior Day home finale.
Nebraska utility player Jake Meyers (hand) pitched Sunday, but he wasn’t swinging a bat due to the risk of his stitches reopening, so the Huskers led off with sophomore third baseman Angelo Altavilla for the third game in a row.
To from the first pitch, junior pitcher Ethan Landon never got comfortable, walking back-to-back batters to lead off the game. Nebraska senior first baseman Ben Miller came up big on his senior day as he hit an RBI single to left field to bring home Altavilla, the first of his team-high three RBIs on the day.
The Spartans responded quickly in the second inning, reaching base on a throwing error by Husker shortstop Brison Cronenbold and using back-to back singles to score one run.
Nebraska (32-17-1, 14-6-1 B1G) retaliated in the bottom of the second as Cronenbold hit an RBI single to center field that scored junior Luis Alvarado. Altavilla added on as he hit and an RBI with a single to bring home senior second baseman Jake Schleppenbach, who went a career-best 4-for-4 in his final game at Haymarket Park.
Michigan State’s Landon was replaced by Joe Mockbee early in the second. Mockbee, who pitched in every game of the series, threw 85 pitches in his fifth outing in less than a week. The hard-throwing lefty struck out Miller with the bases loaded to end the opportunity in the frame.
The Spartan offense came out firing in the top of the third inning, recording back-to-back solo home runs on a windy day at Hawks Field. After a pair of doubles, Meyers' day was done. In his shortest start of the year, the Husker junior allowed seven hits, four earned runs and a walk over 2.2 innings. It was the first time since April 15, 2015 that he failed to record a strikeout.
After Michigan State (27-21, 9-12) added another run in the top of the fourth, the Husker offense started to produce. Schleppenbach doubled to left center field and Cronenbold reached first on a fielding error by the Spartans. After an Altavilla walk, junior slugger Scott Schreiber took advantage of the lefty pitcher with a ground rule double to bring two runs in. After that, Miller hit a sacrifice fly to bring Altavilla home to make it 6-6.
“I try not to do anything different in a big spot,” Schleppenbach said. “I kind of just step away and smile because those are fun moments. Those are the at-bats that you will remember good or bad. That’s what you play the game for.”
After Robbie Palkert quelled the damage over a career-long 3.0 innings, he was replaced by sophomore reliever Jake McSteen in the sixth, who finished with three strikeouts while allowing three hits and one earned run in 3.0 innings.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Huskers recorded a double from Schreiber, a single from Miller and a double from freshman Luke Roskam to pull NU ahead by a score of 8-6.
Sophomore stopper Chad Luesnmann came in the top of the ninth and earned his eighth save of the year in relief of McSteen. After a leadoff single, the closer forced one of his signature ground ball outs, this one a double play to Cronenbold.
Down to his last strike, Michigan State second baseman Dan Durkin smashed one to deep left, but the Mojo Hagge magic happened again as he made a leaping catch to secure the win for Nebraska and keep the Huskers in first place.
“Well there wasn’t as much hair flying around since he shaved his hair off, so that’s good,” head coach Darin Erstad said. “You make plays and you have a chance to win and he’s made a couple big ones for us even if he isn’t swinging that bat as well as he was earlier in the year.”
Even for all the drama, Erstad was happy that the seniors had a proper sendoff.
“I want good experiences for all those guys," Erstad said. "For Schleppenbach to get four hits, Benny getting a couple hits, it’s a big deal. They’ll have that for the rest of their life.”
Nebraska returns to action on Thursday at 5:30 C.T. in Happy Valley as they take on last place Penn State in the last road series of the season.
“It’s good to have a couple of those games where you have to deal with adversity,” Schreiber said. “Having that experience is big, but hopefully we can carry this momentum into next weekend.”