It was a little disappointing that I did not get any May baskets delivered to my door before the game today. Apparently the girls in the neighborhood south of Lincoln are not yet aware I am back! Thus, my May Day treats will have to be acquired at the ballpark in the second game of the series with the Scarlet Knights from Piscataway. H
owever, upon arriving at the park, it was more like the Dark Knights as the fellas from Jersey were dressed in all black, save for the red on the crown of their caps. This sets up for a battle of good versus evil with the Cornhuskers wearing white to counter the forces of darkness.
Both teams made significant changes to their lineups from last night. For the Cornhuskers, this may have been the most change in a starting nine from one game to the next since the first couple of weekends of the season. Coach Bolt is looking for a little more punch in his lineup after seeing his team only generate four hits last night. It will be important to get the bats going early today.
As the Thunder Rolls, Chance Hroch took the mound for the Cornhuskers, looking to improve on his two most recent outings. Getting quickly ahead of lead-off hitter Mike Nyisztor, he got the DH to hit a sky-high fly ball that Max Anderson camped under. When that baseball-sized piece of hail dropped from the sky, it popped out of Anderson’s glove and Nyisztor was standing on first, benefit of the error. Not a great way to start a game on a beautiful day at the ballpark.
However, the big redhead from Chaska, Minnesota playing catcher today, exploded from behind the plate and fired a missle to second base, nailing Nyisztor trying to steal, bringing back a little thunder. That brought up Richie Schiekofer, who got on with an infield single. Hroch then added a little lightening to his thunder and got Ryan Lasko to hit a grounder to 3rd base, where Max Anderson got a chance to redeem himself, starting a 5-4-3 double play and ending the inning.
As the Big Red came to bat, the top three hitters in the lineup did remain the same. Once again, Mr. Excitement, Joe Acker, brought the crowd to their feet with a first at-bat homerun that travelled over 400-just to left-center. Apparently Coach Bolt and Joe had a chat after last night’s game based on the fact that after he touched home plate, Acker turned directly to the Husker dugout and headed in that direction rather than sharing his joy with the boys from Rutgers. Jaxon Hallmark and Spencer Schwellenbach grounded out and flew out respectively before Max Anderson drew a walk. Anderson in the cleanup spot was the first noticeable change in the lineup today. Cam Chick, playing second base today, dropped a spot in the order to the five-hole and hit a shot to left that unfortunately stayed in the air too long and was grabbed by Evan Sleight. Just like last night, Nebraska was up 1-0 after the first inning.
A 1-2-3 second inning for Hroch was punctuated by two strikeouts. He got lead-off hitter Sleight with a nasty breaking pitch. Then Chris Brito hit a screamer right at Schellenbach at short. Thunder returned with a fastball that Hroach blew by Danny Digeorgio. You gotta’ love the sound of 5,000 Husker fans exploding on Strike Three!
Logan Foster, getting a start in leftfield today, led off the second grounding out to Brito at third base. That brought the up the Chaska Grizzly. After a very disappointing day in three at bats, Luke Roskum made amends hitting a blast the opposite way beyond the berm in straightaway leftfield. What a shot! There was a Gunner Hellstrom sighting for the second time in two days as he is the DH today. He hit a screamer right at the third baseman who was lucky to get a glove on it and was not able to get a throw off.
Officially it was scored as an error, but Gunner was standing on first with one out. Jake Steil, playing first base and hitting in the nine-spot, was then hit by a pitch. Wereski appeared to be rattled, and seeing that, the Rutgers pitching coach made a slow walk to the mound to You Had a Nice Day to help his pitcher get in touch with his inner Ben. That didn’t help much as he then walked Joe Acker and gave up a hard line-drive single to center. Hellstrom scored, but Steil was thrown out at the plate for the second out. Schwellenbach ended the things, popping up to the catcher. A good inning by the Big Red put them up 3-0
The top of the third saw Chance Hroch continue to establish his command. Schwellenbach charged hard, fielding a soft ground ball to throw out Kevin Welsh. Then Jordan Sweeney hit a hot shot that Cam Chick made a play on deep in the hole at second, leaping in the air and getting Sweeney by a whisker at first base. Catcher Andy Axelson then drew a walk before Nyisztor flew out to short, ending the top of the inning.
Wereski, having thrown 42 pitches in the first two innings, faced Max Anderson on the Nebraska side of the third. Max hit a floater that was easily caught by Schiekofer in right. Cam Chick then grounded sharply to third and for the fourth time in two games, Jordan Sweeney at first base was not able to dig a throw out of the dirt, getting an error. Foster flew out to the warning track in center. Luke Roskum then gave a demonstration of situational hitting, slapping a ground ball between first and second behind Cam Chick, allowing the fleet second baseman to get to third. However, with runners on the corners, Gunner was unable to bring some hell-fire, grounding out to third to end the inning.
Cam Chick made his second acrobatic play of the game, charging a soft grounder and making a submarine throw to first on the run to get lead-off hitter Schiekofer to start the fourth inning. Hroch then faced Lasko, and struck him out on four pitches, joining Michael Jackson and telling him to Beat It as he took the walk of shame back to the Rutgers dugout. The inning came to an end as cleanup hitter Sleight hit a grounder to Jack Steil deep behind first, who made and easy toss to Hroch, who hustled over to cover. At the end of four innings Hroch has thrown 56 pitches. He is looking good, but in his last two starts, it has been at about this point of the game that he got in trouble. No one is warming up in the bullpen, hopefully a sign from the coaches that Hroch still has plenty of the good stuff in his tank.
Freshman Jack Steil led off the bottom of the fourth and popped up to a hard-charging left fielder. Then Let Me Hear Your Hands Clap as Joe Acker followed up with a shot down the third base line just out of the reach of a diving Chris Brito, ending up on second with a double. Hallmark then popped up to the shortstop, bringing Schwellenbach to the plate. The Michigander had been for the most part quiet at the plate so far in the series, but that all ended in an explosion with the Husker’s second monster homerun to left field. Chelsea Dagger accompanied him home following Acker and Nebraska was ahead 5-0. That was the end of the road for Ben Wereski. He was replaced by big lefthander Justin Sinibaldi. Note: All of these east coach surnames are incredibly difficult for a midwestern German kid to spell! Max Anderson promptly welcomed him with a single up the middle. Cam Chick Walked This Way, with a base on balls before Foster grounded out to third to end the inning. Another crooked number for the good guys!
Well, here we are in the fifth and Hroch has looked pretty good. He started off getting a quick one, striking out Brito. Perhaps the coaches waited until he was focused on hitters that they waited until after one hitter to get people stretching in the bullpen. DiGeorgio then came up and quickly smacked a single. Kevin Welsh then launched a gapper to right-center, scoring DiGeorgio all the way from first. Then things got stupid again as Sweeney popped up to first for what would assuredly be the second out . . . had Jack Steil not dropped it. Was this a sign of impending doom? A second dropped ball by one of the corner infielders in the game makes one wonder what has happened in the last two days to one of the best defensive teams in college baseball.
Fortunately, Schwellenbach did not drop a pop-up hit by Axelson. It looked like Hroch was going to work his way out of the inning, getting up early on lead-off many Nyisztor, but the DH battled and eventually shot a single that caught Hroch in the leg. The righty walked it off and with bases loaded, Coach Bolt stuck with the him. Chance repaid him by getting Schiekofer to ground out to the shortstop. Hroch survived the fifth inning, but Rutgers was now on the board with their first run.
Luke Roskum led off for the Huskers with his third hit of the day, shooting a single right up the middle. He advanced to second base on a well-placed sacrifice bunt by Hellstrom. Jack Steil put a charge in a ball to center, but it didn’t have enough juice and was caught for the second out. Sinibaldi then hit Acker with a pitch before Hallmark struck out to end the inning.
Hroch took the mound to start the sixth inning, and Ryan Lasko welcomed his first pitch by smashing a single to left. Hroch did not let that phase him and bore down on Sleight, who hit a grounder to first that Steil grabbed and stepped on the bag to force him out before making the throw to second. However, Lasko was already there, and would advance to third a couple of pitches later when one got past Roskum. With one out and a runner on third, Hroch dealt Chris Brito his second strike out of the game and then DiGeorgio grounded out to short with Schwellenbach making a diving grab going to his left, jumping up and firing a throw to first.
After his web gem, Spencer Schwellenbach smacked his own grounder to short and was thrown out, and Max Anderson followed with a ground out to the third baseman. With two outs Sinibaldi plunked Cam Chick in the hip. Logan Foster came to the plate next. Chick stole second, and then a couple of pitches later, stole third when Foster took ball four. With runners on the corners, Roskum came up, but unfortunately grounded out to the second baseman. After six innings, Nebraska was up 5-1 over Rutgers.
Braxton Bragg took the mound to the blaring Welcome to the Jungle in relief of Hroch. Chance put together one of his better games in recent weeks, going a full six innings facing 24 batters and throwing 96 pitches. He gave up one earned run, had five strike outs and one base on balls. Bragg got a slow start, walking Kevin Welsh. Sweeney then popped up to Schwellenbach. Coach Owens decided to go to the bench for a pinch hitter, bringing big Josh Rodriguez to the plate. He crushed the first pitch he saw for a towering two run homer to left field off Bragg. The Husker lead had shrunk to two runs. Apparently Bragg was wild over the middle of the plate as DH Mike Nyisztor followed suit a couple of pitches later, launching a solo homer also to left field.
With the lead down to one run, Coach Bolt pulled Bragg out of the jungle and summoned Spencer Schwellenbach to the mound, plugging Efry Cervantes in at shortstop. Schiekofer greeted him by slapping a single through the hole between Chick and Steil, bringing up Lasko with a runner on and one out. He hit a ball just to the left of the mound that was fielded by Chick, who flipped it to Cervantes to finish off the 4-6-3 double play to get out of the inning. However, the boys from New Jersey wearing the black uniforms had made it a one run ballgame.
Efry Cervantes came to the plate first for Nebraska and faced a new pitcher, Parker Scott. Note: He must have midwestern roots with that easy last name! Efry worked a walk, bringing Griffin Everitt to the plate as a pinch hitter for Jack Steil. Everitt was not able to get the bunt down to move Cervantes to second, and eventually struck out on a called strike three. Joe Acker then struck out swinging as Cervantes stole second. Scott then ended the Husker inning getting Hallmark to hit a chopper that was field by the shortstop and tossed to first for the final out.
In the top of the 8th inning, Schwellenbach threw one pitch and got one out as Sleight flew out the Hallmark in centerfield. That brought up Brito, who to this point had struggled this game. He drew a walk for the Husker closer. Shortstop DiGeorgio came up next, hitting a flyball into the gap that neither Hallmark or Acker could get to. Coach Bolt walked with a purpose to the mound and appeared to be somewhat animated in his conversation with the entire infield. That brought up Kevin Welsh, who quickly fell behind in the count. On a 1-2 pitch, he hit a floater to left, scoring Brito from second and making it a tie ball game. Schwellenbach then struck out Sweeney for the second out. Peter Serruto, now in at catcher hit a sinking liner right at second base. Cam Chick continued to make spectacular plays in the field today, just getting his glove under it for the final out. However, it is a new game as it is all tied at 5-5 going to the bottom of the 8th.
Schwellenbach was first up in the bottom of the eighth inning. From the reaction of the fans, and Spencer’s body language, it appeared that the umpires strike zone is changing a bit. That said, our dual-purpose player worked a lead-off walk. That brought up Anderson. After a somewhat wild first pitch, Rutgers’ pitching coach called timeout to tell his pitcher to Take It Easy. Scott stayed in the game and got back to business with Anderson. Two pitches later, Anderson grounded into a double play. Defensive player of the game nominee Cam Chick then came up and flew out to Lasko in centerfield.
Designated hitter Mike Nyisztor continued to hit the ball hard, leading off the inning by shooting one right back at Schwellenbach. Spencer knocked it down, but no one was able to grab it in time to make a throw. Schiekofer then put down a very good sacrifice bunt to move his teammate to second. Schwellenbach then bore down and got Lasko to pop up to the catcher. However, Evan Sleight, who had gone hitless on the day, ripped a fastball to leftfield, scoring Nyisztor from second base. The Scarlet Knights went up 6-5, battling back from a four-run deficit. Chris Brito struck out for the third time in the game.
Power forward Nate McLain came in to pitch the ninth inning for Rutgers, bringing with him a 2.04 ERA and 17 strikeouts. Mojo Hagge, who had entered the game defensively a couple of innings earlier, came to bat first to face McLain. Hagge had his mojo working, hitting a chopper over the tall pitcher and beating the throw down to first. The ball got past the porous first baseman and rolled into the Rutgers dugout, moving Hagge to second. The Chaska Grizzly came to the plate and for the second time in the game unselfishly advanced a runner by hitting behind Hagge with a sacrifice to the second baseman. With Hagge on third and one out, Cervantes slapped a liner to second base for a second out. Down to their last out, Joe Acker fouled out to the Rutgers leftfielder. The Rutgers bench danced out of their dugout to celebrate. Ball game.
As a silent, dejected crowd filed out of the ballpark, Nebraska has lost their first series of the season to a team that is one of the hottest in the conference. We all know that the schedule played to Nebraska’s advantage this year, giving a lot of new and young players a chance to get their feet on the ground against teams from the bottom half of the conference. What we have seen the last two days is that right now Nebraska cannot hold a lead. Baseball people will tell you that you cannot point fingers at any one reason for a loss, but without a doubt the bullpen is a big reason the Huskers have dropped these two games.
The Huskers were also out hit again today, but one would think nine hits, three of them homeruns, would be enough offense to win. Something else that has come to the surface in the last two days is sloppy play. Two more errors today along with some other miscues were out of character for this team.
Tomorrow is another day and Shay Schanaman is going to take the mound. That game will be a character test to see if this team can respond to losing two games in a row that they were winning. There’s still quite a bit of the season left as we are just starting May. Can Coach Bolt and Coach Christy get the bullpen straightened out? Can the defense get back to where they were a couple of weeks ago? Will timely hitting return? Can the team figure out how to finish a game? We will see!