Huskers waste no time, blast Penn State 21-3 to win Big Ten title
After Friday night’s win, Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad was happy his team had an early start for the series finale. They weren’t going to sleep anyway.
But on a gray and misty Saturday morning in central Pennsylvania, the Husker bats were wide awake from the start, scoring 10 runs in the first two innings en route to an emphatic 21-3 victory over Penn State. The win locked up another weekend series and gave Nebraska its first conference title in a major men’s sport since 2005.
The Huskers (34-18-1, 16-7-1 B1G) locked up the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament in Bloomington, Ind., where they will play Purdue in the first round. The last time Nebraska was the top seed in a conference tournament, it won the Big 12 title and went on to reach the College World Series.
“They went through a wide range of emotions this weekend,” Erstad said in his postgame radio show on the Husker Sports Network. “It’s a credit to them fighting through a tough start in the season, sticking with it, and just battling.
“It’s all on them. It’s their team, and they did a great job."
Penn State (18-37, 4-20 B1G) gave Nebraska all the help it wanted in the top of the first inning. Redshirt freshman pitcher Eric Mock put the first three Husker batters on with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. After a wild ball in the dirt scored leadoff man Jake Meyers, senior Ben Miller broke open the floodgates with a two-RBI double off the right field wall.
After an RBI groundout and two more hit batters, Mock’s day was done, giving way to reliever Dakota Forsyth. Freshman walk-on Mojo Hagge jumped on the right-hander quickly, slicing Forsyth’s second pitch for a single through the right side and scoring Jesse Wilkening from second.
In his second at-bat of the frame, Angelo Altavilla hit a ground-rule double to right center field, scoring Hagge and Jake Schleppenbach to extend Nebraska’s lead to 7-0 before the Nittany Lions even got to the plate.
But when they did, the day didn’t get any better. Meyers, following a career-worst 2.2 innings in last week’s start, was locked in on the mound Saturday, retiring 18 of the 19 batters he faced and fanning seven with no walks over 6.0 innings.
“Jake’s been doing it for us all year on Sunday, and to get him a nice cushion like that right out of the gate was huge,” Schleppenbach said after the game. “We just set the tone early and stuck with it the rest of the day."
Offensively, Nebraska picked up right where it left off in the second, loading the bases on back-to-back-to-back singles and scoring one on a hit-by-pitch, one on a double play, and one on a Hagge RBI single to extend the lead to 10-0. Hagge drove in another run in the sixth, part of a career-best four-hit, three-RBI day.
After two more runs in the fifth inning, the Huskers put up a 5-spot in the sixth, including runs from Meyers, Schleppenbach, and Miller, who drove in three runs and tied a career high with four hits. Schleppenbach got in on the RBI party in the eighth, blasting a grand slam to right field to extend Nebraska’s lead to 21-0.
The Nittany Lions finally got the offense going for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but had little chance to mount a comeback, falling 21-3 in their home finale.
The last time the Huskers scored more than 20 runs was a 22-3 win over Louisiana Tech in 2012. Saturday was Nebraska's largest margin of victory in a conference game since entering the Big Ten, and it came with big days from the program veterans.
“What they can be really proud of is they’re leaving the program in a much better position than when they first got here,” Erstad said of his seniors. “This is their reward. I know this means a lot to them and they’ve put a lot of effort into this. I’m just really proud of them.”
Erstad said the Huskers will thoroughly enjoy the victory after putting an exclamation point on their conference title coronation. But even though the win marks a major stepping stone for the program, Schleppenbach reiterated that this team hasn’t reached its final mark yet.
“We’ll enjoy it for right now but realize we’ve got a whole lot more season left,” Schleppenbach said.
“We’re not done."