With the sun shining and the thermometer reading 83-degrees when Cade Povich threw his first pitch, it would be hard to have a more perfect night for baseball at Haymarket Park. Toss in a few thousand loyalists who were excited to see their boys play on their home field and you had the makings of a great evening. The Cornhuskers came into the series on top of the Big 10 conference at 20-7, and Rutgers entered the game with a 14-13 record, sitting right in the middle of the standings. What lurked below the surface is that the Scarlet Knights had won the last two series they had played on the road, including taking two of three from Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend. When the dust cleared at the end of the evening, Rutgers put themselves in position to get their third in a row.
Cade Povich was efficient in the top of the first, getting a pop up on the first pitch and a line drive three pitches later, both to second baseman Bryce Matthews. Then he ended the inning with a strikeout of Chris Brito. No runs. No hits. No errors, and no one left on base. Good start for the Big Red.
In the bottom of the inning, the Huskers faced lanky lefty, Harry Rutkowski. Joe Acker led off with a walk after working the pitcher to a full count. Always a threat to drop one down, Jaxon Hallmark saw the first three pitches high in the zone as he showed bunt. After taking a strike, Hallmark dropped down a beauty on the left side, easily beating it out for a hit as Rutkowski threw wild and the ball rolled all the way down the line. Acker scored from first and Hallmark ended up standing on third.
Two pitches later, Spencer Schwellenbach hit a sharp grounder to the third basemen, who fielded it and dove to tag Hallmark who had started toward home on the crack of the bat. Cam Chick then hit a soft grounder to second, who wheeled and made the throw to the shortstop to start what looked to be an inning ending double play. However, first baseman Jordan Sweeney was unable to pick the ball out of the dirt and Chick ended up on first base with a fielder’s choice. The inning ended on a Max Anderson ground ball to the third baseman who tossed him out. After the first inning, the Cornhuskers were up 1-0.
The second inning for Povich resembled the first as he continued to keep the ball low in the strike zone and consistently stayed ahead in the count. Two ground outs and a long fly ball by Mike Nyisztor caught by right fielder, Joe Acker, was all the Scarlet Knights could manage off the left hander.
Luke Roskam, the big fella from Chaska, Minnesota having the best month of his college baseball career, led off the second inning for the Huskers. He unfortunately was fooled by a pitch on the outside edge of the plate and struck out looking. Griffin Everitt then lashed a single up the middle. That brought freshman Bryce Matthews to the plate. He struck out on a high fastball as Everitt swiped second base. The inning ended with Mojo Hagge grounding out to the third baseman, stranding Everitt at second.
Kevin Welsh led off the third for Rutgers with a five-pitch walk, followed by a Jordan Sweeney single to right field, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Number nine hitter Peter Serruto bunted a 1-2 pitch toward third, beating the throw to first as Matthews was slow getting over to cover. That left the bases loaded for leadoff hitter Ryan Lasko, who ripped a single to left. Welsh scored, but the other runners were only able to advance one base as Mojo Hagge came up quickly and got the ball back to the infield. Pitching coach Jeff Christy took a trip to the mound to settle Povich down, who then enticed Richie Schiekofer to hit a dribbler to Roskum at first base, who threw home for the first out. With the bases still loaded, third baseman Chris Brito then hit a screamer to left field. Hagge once again charged hard and threw a dart to the plate. Catcher Griffin Everitt fielded the ball up the line and made a sweeping tag, catching Lasko in the heel as he was flying in his slide to the plate. That brought head coach Steve Owens down the line from his third base coaching box to share his thoughts with home plate umpire Mark Wagers. And of course, the Nebraska crowd let Coach Owens know what they thought. Clean-up hitter Danny Digeorgio then grounded out to short, putting Rutgers ahead 2-1 going to the bottom of the frame
It got really hot in the bottom of the inning as leadoff man Joe Acker stepped in for his second time at bat. He hit a sinking line drive right up the middle that Ryan Lasko decided to try and lay out to catch as he was charging hard. He came up short and the ball rolled all the way to the centerfield wall. With the crowd on their feet cheering him on, Acker put his chin down and circled the bases for an inside the park homerun. This tied the score at two, and brought an angry Coach Owens out of the dugout to complain once again to Wagers. It is unclear why because there was not a play at the plate, and the best anyone could tell it must have been because of some hurt feelings. Will Bolt also came out of the dugout, though it did not appear that he said much, but apparently there were some words flying back and forth from the dugouts as Wagers warned both teams. It started to remind us of some of those bygone days when Texas came to town and sparks started flying with the first pitch.
Jaxon Hallmark then struck out on a called third strike before Schwellenbach walked on five pitches. He then made a very smart decision, tagging up on a deep fly ball by Chick down the right field line and advancing to second base on a lazy throw from Schiekofer that went over the head of the cut-off man. However, he was stranded at second as Max Anderson was out on a ground ball to second. After three innings, the crowd was into the game and the score was tied 2-2.
Things quieted down a bit in the fourth as Povich gained back some of the command he had in the first two innings. The lead-off hitter grounded out to Schwellenbach at shortstop, followed by a single by Evan Sleight. He stayed at first as Welsh then flew out and Povich struck out Sweeney.
Luke Roskum once again led off an inning, and promptly struck out for a second time. Griffin Everitt then hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. Chris Brito made a great backhanded grab on the chalk and fired the ball across the diamond. For the third time in this game, first baseman Jordan Sweeney was unable to pick the ball out of the dirt. The ball then ricocheted out of play and Everitt was given second base. The very next pitch to Bryce Matthews squirted about ten feet past the catcher and Everitt hustled to third. At that point the Rutgers pitching coach walked out to the mound to the tune of “Under Pressure” to calm down Rutkowski. He then struck out Matthews and gave up a walk to Mojo Hagge. Rutkowski got his focus back and struck out Joe Acker to end the inning.
Povich got two quick outs to start the 5th inning, with the catcher Serruto hitting a soft ground ball to third that Max Anderson made a very good play on to throw him out at first. That was followed by Ryan Lasko flying out quietly to centerfield. Schiekofer then got a base hit before Povich fought back to get Chris Brito to hit a lazy fly ball to Hallmark in center. At the end of five innings Povich had thrown 75 pitches.
The dynamic Jaxson Hallmark led off the fifth, swinging at the first pitch and hitting Rutkowski’s 79th pitch of the game for a 390-foot homerun to left-center and danced home to “Chelsea Dagger.” Rutkowski then righted the ship, striking out Schwellenbach on three pitches and getting Cam Chick to hit a dribbler to the mound that was tossed to first for the second out. Max Anderson brought the Cornhusker crowd to their feet with a deep, high fly ball to the wall in straight-away center, but it was caught by Lasko for the third out. Damage was done and Nebraska was up by a run, 3-2.
As the Huskers came out for the sixth inning, Cade Povich’s day was done. He pitched admirably, but that rough third inning seemed to take something out of him. Jake Bunz came out to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” second only to Joba Chamberlain’s “Indian Outlaw” for all-time great Nebraska pitcher walk-up songs. Bunz took care of the Scarlet Knights 1-2-3 with a ground out by Digeorgia, a fly out by Nyisztor, and another ground out by Sleight. However, the Cornhuskers also went down in order in the bottom of the inning with Roskum flying out to center, Everitt hitting a dribbler to the pitcher, and Matthews popping up sky-high to the catcher.
Bunz was on the bump again for the seventh inning, walking lead-off man Welsh before striking out Sweeney. Welsh then got a great jump against the left-hander and swiped second, putting himself in scoring position. Bunz then walked the nine-hole hitter Peter Serruto. At that point, Max Anderson made his second web-gem play in the game, stabbing a sharply hit ball by Ryan Lasko, hustling over to stomp on the bag at third and then firing across the diamond to first right before Lasko legged it out for a double play.
After a round of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sung by a joyous chorus of fans in the stands, Kyle Muller took the mound for Rutgers in the bottom of the 7th inning. However, their energy did not help as Mojo Hagge grounded out to 2nd base and then Acker struck out. With two outs, Hallmark worked a walk before Spencer Schwellenbach grounded out harmlessly to the shortstop.
Jake Bunz returned for the 8th inning and promptly walked Richie Schiekofer, leading Coach Bolt to end his time on the mound. Right-hander Cam Wynne then came to the mound and threw his third pitch high and tight to Chris Brito, hitting him in what appeared to be the shoulder or the neck. Wynne continued to struggle with control and walked the bases loaded on five pitches to Danny Digeorgio. His control problems continued as he busted one inside on Nyisztor, hitting him on the forearm. That forced home a run with the bases still loaded and no outs. Evan Sleight then hit a deep fly to left field, scoring Brito from third. However, Wynne then saw his fastball slapped right down the first base line by Kevin Welsh for a double, scoring two more runs. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Jordan Sweeney hit one right back at Wynne that he deflected and Schwellenbach was able to pick up and throw over to Roskum for the second out. However, Nyisztor scored from third putting Rutgers up 6-3. A disgusted Will Bolt had seen enough and brought in another righty, Max Schreiber to face Peter Serruto, who grounded out to Anderson.
“Cotton-eyed Joe” welcome the Huskers to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning to face new pitcher, the very tall Brian Fitzpatrick. He hit Cam Chick with his first pitch and then Max Anderson hit a ground ball to short, who tossed to second to force out Chick. Chick did go into second hard, eliminating the opportunity for Rutgers to turn the double play. Freshman Jack Steil was put in to pinch hit for Luke Roskum with Anderson on first base. Steil hit a fly ball to short center for the second out. Things then took a scary turn with Griffin Everitt at the plate. After throwing three straight balls, Fitzpatrick landed wrong with his front foot, letting loose a howl and crawling to the third base side of the mound in pain. With the stadium silent, trainers rushed to his aid, with him eventually being assisted off the field. With a 3-0 count on Griffin Everitt, Dale Stanavich was brought in from the rightfield bullpen. He threw two strikes down the middle of the plate that Everitt watched go by, and then a third that he swung at, striking out and ending the inning.
Ryan Lasko led off the top of the 9th for Rutgers against Max Schreiber, grounding out to third base. Scheikofer then got his second hit of the night landing on first. Then goofy stuff started up as Brito hit one right back at Schreiber, who snagged the ball in his glove behind his back and threw to second to start a double play. However, not only did the relay throw from Matthews pull Steil off the bag at first, apparently Matthews was not in contact with the base on the force at second, thus both runners were safe. Number four hitter Digeorgio then hit another ball up the middle, hitting Schreiber and rolling toward third base, loading the bases. Mike Nyisztor then came up and was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game, bringing Scheikofer home. With the bases still loaded Caleb Feekin was brought in and Evan Sleight hit a little flair out of the reach of Matthews for a single, scoring Brito and putting Rutgers up 8-3. Walsh followed with a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Digeorgio. Feekin was finally able to end the madness by striking out Sweeney.
Gunner Hellstrom made his second appearance of the season to lead off the ninth, pinch hitting for Matthews. He hit a smash to the first basemen that he could not handle and reached on an error. Coach Bolt apparently thought it was time to give some other players some cuts as Logan Foster came to the plate in place of Mojo Hagge. He drew a walk, putting runners on first and second for the top of the order and Joe Acker. He hit the ball right at the second baseman who bobbled it a couple of times before flipping it to the shortstop at second to force out Foster for the first out of the inning. With runners at the corners, Hallmark hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Hellstrom from third. That brought up Spencer Schwellenbach with Acker at first. Stanavich toughened up and struck out the Husker captain, ending the ballgame.
Tonight was the first time since the opening series against Purdue that Nebraska lost the first game of a series. It was a disappointing loss after an exciting fast start, putting a run up right away in the first inning. Four hits are not going to be enough to win many games, so give the Rutgers pitchers their due. After pitching very well over recent games, the Husker bullpen did not perform tonight. It will be very interesting to see if the Big Red can get their confidence back as it looks like they are in for a battle this weekend at Haymarket Park.