Huskers walk off to sweep series
Luis Alvarado didn’t feel comfortable at the plate. He hadn’t the whole weekend.
But with teammate Scott Schreiber standing on second with two outs, the junior from Salinas, Puerto Rico stared down a full count pitch and took a big swing.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and see what happened,” Alvarado said. “I knew Scott was on second with two outs, he was going to go on the swing, so I felt pretty comfortable when I hit the ball.”
Moments later, Alvarado's teammates were swarming him on the field after his first career walk-off hit - a single through the left side, gave Nebraska (29-16-1, 12-5-1) its first sweep of the season in a 7-6 win over Rutgers - a victory that, coupled with Maryland’s loss, gave the Huskers sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
Nebraska remains undefeated in Sunday games this season, but the result looked to be in doubt after the Huskers coasted for the majority of the day. Rutgers senior Tom Marcinczyk tied the game on one swing in the eighth, blasting a three-run home run into the wind in right field.
“Baseball, you’re going to see a bunch of crazy stuff,” head coach Darin Erstad said after the game. “Took a big punch there, could’ve been a knockout blow, but we kept it together and found a way.”
For the third straight game, Nebraska started the day scoring in the bottom of the first. This time, it was unearned with Ben Miller reaching on a two-out throwing error by second baseman Carmen Sclafani that scored Jake Meyers from third.
The Huskers put up a crooked number in the next inning with another unearned run and a two-RBI single from Meyers. But Rutgers (17-28, 5-10) closed the gap in the top of the third, plating two on three hits and a wild pitch.
Nebraska added a run each in the fifth and sixth innings before going 1-2-3 in the seventh. Meyers made it through those seven innings on the mound and came back out for the eighth with a 6-2 lead.
But that lead would disappear quickly. Three singles around a strikeout plated Chris Folinusz, and after a lengthy mound visit by pitching coach Ted Silva, Marcinczyk took Meyers’ first pitch yard on the pull side, tying the game and ending the junior’s day.
With the Husker dugout shaken, Erstad and Silva turned to closer Chad Luensmann, who notched the final two outs in the eighth on two pitches. In the ninth, Luensmann took just one pitch to retire his third batter before letting go of a hit and inducing a swinging strikeout of Christian Campbell to retire the side.
“Chad’s a big part of what we do,” Erstad said. “He’s got the squirrely-bird fastball that dives all over the place, so they’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to try and get ground balls.”
Seeing a chance to earn their first walk-off win of the season, Husker hitters were locked in in the bottom of the ninth. Schreiber ripped a 1-0 pitch back up the middle to give the Huskers a leadoff baserunner, and after a foul out and a sacrifice bunt, Alvarado came to the plate with Schreiber in scoring position.
Alvarado saw five pitches, three of them balls, before he got the one he wanted. With one big swing, he ripped a grounder toward the gap. Freshman shortstop Kevin Welsh, a defensive whiz all day, dove for it, but it slipped under his glove and into the outfield. Left fielder Mike Martinez tried the throw, but there wasn’t much of a chance as Schreiber came sliding into home plate.
“You cannot put your head down and drag your blanket, you just have to go out and compete pitch-by-pitch,” Alvarado said. “I haven’t been hitting the ball at all - good swings, but I wasn’t feeling myself.
“But that at-bat … I was just trying to put the ball in play and see what happened. In the end, it worked out.”
Sitting atop the Big Ten standings, Nebraska has six conference games left to try and secure the top seed for the conference tournament in Bloomington. It will likely take at least one more sweep to guarantee it.
Nebraska will take on Creighton in the final non-conference game of the season at TD Ameritrade Park Wednesday night, looking to clinch the season series in the in-state rivalry. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m. at the home of the College World Series.