Nebraska thwarts Utah rally in 4-3 win
So far in 2017, the Nebraska baseball team hasn’t been used to playing with a lead. The Huskers trailed in every game before Sunday, so when they finally got out to an early lead, there were questions as to how they would respond.
Starting pitcher Jake Hohensee (1-0) and relievers Chad Luensmann and Luis Alvarado answered those questions in a big way, combining to allow just three hits from defending Pac-12 champion Utah in Nebraska’s 4-3 win Sunday.
It was a stark contrast from the norm for a Utah team averaging nearly nine runs per game this season - the same squad that gashed the Huskers for 16 hits Friday night. But as Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad alluded to Sunday, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
“It was great to get ahead and extend the lead a little bit,” Erstad said in his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. “Obviously if you get leadoff guys on, especially early in the game, it’s great for the whole team.”
Nebraska took its first lead of the weekend in the top of the first inning on a two-out single from Scott Schreiber that drove in freshman walk-on Mojo Hagge in his first start in the leadoff spot. After Hohensee allowed no hits through three innings, the offense exploded for three runs in the top of the fourth inning thanks to a bases-loaded walk, an RBI groundout by Alex Raburn, and an RBI single by Hagge.
Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Utah senior Hunter Simmons hit a leadoff triple and scored on an error by Raburn after a sure double play ball slipped underneath his glove. The Utes added two more in the inning on a Wade Gulden RBI single and a Chandler Anderson sacrifice fly. Hohensee was able to get out of the inning with a 4-3 lead when Zack Moeller grounded out to third.
Sticking with the theme of the weekend, the Huskers had their scoring chances the rest of the way, but couldn’t convert. Nebraska batters stranded five baserunners after the fourth inning, on pace with the 10 stranded in Saturday’s loss to Oregon State.
“We’re still not putting a lot of stuff together in multiple innings,” Erstad said, “but we’re getting better.”
But while the Huskers were stranding batters, the Utes weren’t getting them on base at all. After Hohensee left the game in the fifth inning, Luensmann retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced, allowing no hits. Utah’s lone hit after the fourth inning came off Alvarado in the ninth inning, a baserunner that Alvarado stranded with three straight outs to end the game. Erstad was impressed by the effort from his bullpen down the stretch.
“Chad had a good day, he had his little gyroball going,” Erstad said, referencing the Japanese-style pitch Luensmann uses to freeze batters. “I thought Luis came in and closed well.”
With the win Sunday, Nebraska finished the Big Ten-Pac-12 challenge with a 1-3 record, improving to 2-4 on the season. While the win can provide some momentum heading into the Frisco College Baseball Classic next weekend, Erstad wasn’t pleased with an average of just 2.6 runs per game this weekend.
“We need to go back to the basics and hit the reset button offensively this week,” Erstad said. “Right now, we’ve got a lot of guys pressing, so we’ll take tomorrow off, clear our heads, and get back to work Tuesday.”
The Huskers begin the Frisco Classic with 2016 College World Series participant Oklahoma State on Friday night.