On a night where the rest of the Big Ten baseball teams were putting up football numbers, Nebraska and Michigan State were locked in a pitching battle in front of 5000 fans hoping to see their team take the next step towards clinching a spot in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament in Omaha next week.
Heading into Thursday, Nebraska needed a combination of 5 wins between themselves and Maryland (playing Purdue), to give them the edge over Purdue in the standings, and one Minnesota victory over Northwestern in their series to give Nebraska the tiebreaker there, should the Huskers take care of business vs Michigan State. Maryland and Minnesota both did their parts, Maryland won 14-7, and Minnesota won 15-14 in the 9th inning of their game. Neither of those were the highest scoring game of the night. Iowa set multiple school records in their 30 (THIRTY!) to 16 win over Indiana.
Nebraska, on the other hand, could only muster 1 run, and that was with 2 outs in the 9th, on a HBP that may have knocked the already injured Core Jackson out for the rest of the weekend. Michigan State starter Conner Tomasic had the Husker hitters off balance all game. He threw 6.1 innings, and though he didn’t posses a strikeout pitch, he only had 2 on the night, he was able to locate and change speeds incredibly effectively in the zone.
Nebraska countered with Freshman Jackson Brockett on the mound to start. He threw the fewest pitches of the usual starters last weekend, and since it was a short week, the coaches felt he was a good option to open the game with. He gave up 3 earned runs in 3 innings. But 2 of those earned runs really weren’t his fault, as I’ll explain.
Michigan State took the lead in the 2nd inning, with 1st baseman Brock Vradenburg, all 6’7” and 235 lbs of him, launching a towering opposite field fly ball into the howling wind that carried it over the left field fence for a solo home run.
The Spartans added on 2 more with 2 outs in the 3rd, as a runner on 2nd tried to score on a single to right. Husker right fielder Garrett Anglim was playing shallow due to the wind furiously blowing in, fielded the ball off one bounce and threw a strike to home plate to beat the runner by 2-3 strides. Unfortunately catcher Josh Caron dropped the ball while swiping to tag. The next batter would hit the left center field wall and following a misplay by Cam Chick, ended up on third with an RBI triple. So while both runs were technically earned, the inning should have been over before either scored.
The 4th run for the Spartans came as an insurance run in the 8th. Reliever Shay Schanaman was in the midst of throwing the final 6 innings of the game without giving up an earned run. But with a man on 3rd, strike 3 was in the dirt, and Caron hit the batter in the back trying to complete the out by throwing to first. The ball trickled into fouls territory, and the runner jogged home from 3rd base.
These mistakes have plagued this team all year, and may be their final undoing. The room for error is now zero. Nebraska must win both remaining games, and have Maryland win both of its remaining games. A loss by either one means Nebraska’s season ends on Saturday. Catch the next game Friday night in Lincoln at 6:32 PM. It can be seen on TV on Nebraska Public Media, previously known as NET.