Nixed in the ninth: Nebraska baseball drops second game to Rutgers 5-4
Once again Nebraska baseball brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, and once again the Huskers failed to deliver. It was the third straight game that Nebraska had a chance to tie or take the lead in the ninth. The third time wasn't the charm as the Huskers (12-17) dropped their third straight game to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 5-4.
Each pitcher faced three batters in the first inning. Nebraska’s Emmett Olson put together a traditional 1-2-3 inning. In the home half, Nebraska got a base runner in Cam Chick with a one-out walk. But, Chick was caught stealing and Max Anderson flew out to center field to end the Husker threat.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for Olson in the second.
The Scarlet Knights brought in a trio of runs on three hits and an error by Brice Matthews at shortstop. A double and two singles put Rutgers ahead 3-0 and the Scarlet Knights were looking for more with the bases loaded and Nick Cimillo coming to bat. Olson coaxed a pop out from the Big Ten’s leading batter to close the frame.
From then on, it was a pitchers duel.
Rutgers starter Nathan Florence made quick work of the Huskers in the second. Olson regained his footing in the third and began a stretch of four scoreless frames lasting to the seventh. In that time, only four runners reached base and three of those four were Huskers.
Florence flourished, retiring fifteen of the eighteen batters he faced between the second and sixth innings. He exited in the sixth after surrendering his first walk of the game compared to seven punchouts. Olson posted similar numbers. He sat down 14 of 15 Scarlet Knights with five strikeouts before leaving the game for CJ Hood in the seventh.
Hood claimed the final out and thus began a titanic bottom of the seventh for Nebraska. It started with a four-pitch walk for Griffin Everitt, and a one-out single from Nick Wimmers brought Colby Gomes to the plate.
Down 1-2 in the count, the junior mashed a ball to deep left. It hit off the patting of the outfield wall, and after some initial deliberation by the umpires, was ruled a home run. Rutgers head coach Steve Owens was furious. He stormed out of the dugout and was ejected moments later. After the dust settled, the score was tied 3-3.
It didn't take long for the Scarlet Knights to strike back. Tony Santa Maria launched a pitch from Braxton Bragg beyond the wall to put Rutgers back in front 5-3. Nebraska loaded the bases and found itself in a similar situation with two outs on the board.
Pinch hitter Leighton Banjoff walked to make it 5-4. Gomes stepped up once again but struck out swinging to end the rally. Nebraska had another chance in the ninth after a Chick single and Anderson walk. Everitt hit a sharp grounder to shortstop with two outs. It was an easy throw to second base to end it for the Scarlet Knights.
Nebraska came up empty once again.
Olson on top
Bouncing back as a pitcher is a hard thing to do.
One way to do it is by setting a career-high in innings pitched and strikeouts. Emmett Olson accomplished that and more on Saturday afternoon. The sophomore from Des Plaines, Illinois tossed 6.2 innings along with five strikeouts and a single walk.
The three hits and runs allowed by the left-hander all came in the second inning. Brice Matthew's 10th fielding error of the season put Olson behind the 8 ball to start. Then he gave up a double, hit a batter and allowed a single to bring the third run across. It looked as if he was headed for an early exit.
Yet somehow, the underclassman regained his footing. He showed upperclassman prowess, composure and was lights out the rest of the way. By the time he left the game in the seventh, he had retired nine straight Scarlet Knights.
Nebraska's pitching staff was deep entering the 2022 campaign, but it has been severely tested. Jake Bunz and Kyle Perry suffered major injuries while Jaxon Jelkin was removed from the team roster earlier this week. Koty Frank's availability is currently in question according to Will Bolt.
The Huskers need someone to step up. It could be Olson. The million-dollar question is if Olson can put together multiple performances like Saturday's. It would be a first on a Nebraska team that has been consistently inconsistent throughout 2022.
Nebraska's situational hitting has been a hot topic of late. It seems that the Huskers simply can't get it done in the big moments. While anecdotally that has been true in the last week, the numbers may not be quite as bad as most would guess.
With runners in scoring position, Nebraska has hit .254 (75/295) this season. In the last ten games dating back to the beginning of the Michigan series, the Huskers are batting .258 with RISP. Those numbers weren't massively inflated by the Ohio State series either. Against the Buckeyes, Nebraska batted at .280 (14-50).
How about with the bases loaded?
This season, Nebraska has hit .250 (10-40) with the bases loaded. In the last ten games, the Huskers are at .240 (6-25). So while plenty of loud outs in key situations in recent weeks certainly stick out, the data across the course of the season and in recent games is clear.
Nebraska is just average. No better, no worse.
The Huskers close out the series with Rutgers on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. for what is the third game of a nine-game homestand. The game will be televised on BTN+ and can be heard on the Huskers Radio Network.