Today started a lot like yesterday, but what happened after three and a half innings was something this writer has never witnessed on a baseball diamond. Both teams proceeded to hit through the order twice, a total of 32 runs were scored, and it all ended in a tie. What a sinking feeling to end a very disappointing opening weekend to what most Nebraska baseball fans expect to be a bounce back season. The dust has cleared and Will Bolt’s team is going to have a nice, long plane ride home to figure out whether they are going to step up and do their respective jobs, or experience another year like 2022.
On a beautiful sunny day in America’s Finest City, a new lineup took the field to change the fortunes of the Nebraska nine. Freshman Dylan Carey, who has had a hot start at the plate in his first games as a Cornhusker was moved into the second spot in the order, Brice Matthews was dropped down to the ninth hole, Ben Columbus made his second start and captain Efry Cervantes started at first base.
Carey continued his hot start with a first inning solo homer, giving the visitors a quick lead. Nebraska then added three more runs thanks to a Carey double in the top of the second before San Diego put their first run up in the bottom of the inning.
SET THE TONE, DC. pic.twitter.com/pza2otUUpB— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) February 20, 2023
That lead held until the fourth inning. It became apparent that Nebraska’s pitching plan was by committee as starter Jackson Brockett was pulled after two innings without getting into much trouble. Drew Christo took the ball and had a really quick, three batter third inning. Then it all went off the rails.
After the Cornhuskers went down in order in the top of the fourth, Drew Christo walked the first two batters, missing badly at times. After a visit from pitching coach Jeff Christy and an offensive timeout taken by the San Diego skipper, Brock Ungritch, Austin Smith laid down a bunt. Christo easily fielded the ball to his right but sailed the ball to first, allowing Kevin Sim to score and Angelo Peraza to advance to third. Christy pulled Christo and Austin Berggren from Olathe, Kansas made his first appearance as a Cornhusker with runners on second and third with no outs.
Designated hitter Wil Worthington hit a deep fly ball to right, scoring Peraza and advancing Austin Smith to third. On the next pitch, catcher Andrew Semo laid down a squeeze bunt, scoring Smith due to a bobble by Cornhusker catcher Ben Columbus. Smelling blood, Semo then attempted to steal second, but Dustin Allen was called out for batter interference for the second out of the inning. That was followed by a single from shortstop Justin Decriscio.
Coach Christy then decided to go lefty on lefty and Jake Bunz, the big fella from Elkhorn came in and walked lead-off hitter James Arakawa to load the bases. Four pitches later, Jack Costello blasted a grand slam home run to left field taking the total to seven runs scored in the inning. Bunz then walked Kevin Sim for the second time in the inning before he was pulled for lefty Will Walsh, who promptly gave up a two-run homer to Angelo Peraza for the eighth and ninth runs of the inning. The pain ended when Smith flew out to center. The stat line for the Torero fourth was 12 batters to the plate, nine runs, three hits, two Cornhusker errors and four walks. Teams do not win games walking batters and playing sloppy defense.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it didn’t! Up came the Cornhuskers to battle back in the fifth, loading the bases on Josh Caron double, a walk and a single by Efry Cervantes before Garrett Anglim smoked a single up the middle to score two. Then Brice Matthews hit a shot that the Torero shortstop mishandled, reaching on the error and loading the bases. That brought up the top of the order and Griffin Everitt pinch hitting for Casey Burnham. Everitt drove a single into the right field gap scoring Cervantes and Anglim, and then Matthews when the cut-off man did not handle the ball clean. When the dust cleared on the Nebraska fifth inning, they had batted around and scored five runs, making the score 10-9 Toreros.
Shay Schanaman came out to the mound to start the fifth and after a double play, sat San Diego down 1-2-3. In the sixth he faced four batters, giving up a hit and notching his second strike out. This came after Nebraska scored two runs in their half of the sixth with a Charlie Fisher bomb after Ben Columbus reached on his second hit of the game. Going to the seventh inning, Nebraska had fought back to take an 11-10 lead.
It got crazy again in the top of the 7th, Brice Matthews got his second hit of the game leading off with a single. Then Luke Sartori, who had entered as a pinch runner for Griffin Everitt, shot a single to left that Austin Smith let roll under his glove all the way to the fence. Sartori’s little league home run scored Matthews, putting the Big Red up 13-10. After a line out by Carey, an Anderson walk, and a pop out by Jake Caron, the Cornhuskers got on another roll. Ben Columbus walked, and then Charlie Fisher had his second extra base hit of the game as he drove a double scoring Anderson and Columbus. Cole Evans then walked and Anglim was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Matthews walked to score Fisher before the inning ended with Sartori striking out.
Since this was get-away day, a time clock of 3:00 local time was put on this game. Lead-off batter Angelo Peraza stepped into the batter’s box at 3:04, meaning that this would be the last inning. Unfortunately, more crazy was headed our way. Peraza was hit in the elbow by Schanaman, in for his third inning of relief. He was also shaky to the next batter, walking Austin Smith on five pitches. He then hit Worthington to load the bases. After a Coach Christy visit and leaving Schanaman in, the right-hander then walked in a run.
Mason Ornelas was then brought in from the bullpen with bases loaded, no outs and he couldn’t throw a strike, walking the first batter he faced to give up yet another run. Still struggling to find the strike zone, he did get the next two batters to fly out. However, up came Jack Costello who had hit a grand slam earlier in the game. This time with two runners on base, he blasted a three-run dinger to centerfield to tie up the game. Ornelas was then pulled for Sam Novotny who got the final out of the game with a ground out to first by Jack Gurevitch.
Final score: 16-16.
Final Thoughts and Observations
- In today’s game, Nebraska out hit San Diego 17 to seven, and were helped out by three San Diego errors, yet San Diego scored 16 runs.
- Both teams overcame five run deficits.
- Nebraska pitching gave up eight walks to San Diego’s seven.
- San Diego did not waste opportunities to score runs, leaving only two runners on base while Nebraska stranded nine. This was a big problem last year as well.
- Seven Cornhuskers had two hits in this game. They team also had 11 strikeouts.
- Prior to this weekend, a consensus belief was that the bullpen was going to be the strength of this Nebraska team. However, very poor relief pitching, much of it by veterans, resulted in unbelievable disasters for Nebraska in the last two games of the series.
- Freshmen Dylan Carey and Caleb Clark both looked very good in their first weekend as Cornhuskers. Carey is hitting over .400 and Clark had a decent first start. Another freshman pitcher, Jalen Worthley from Lincoln East also looked solid.
- Ben Columbus led the transfers with good appearances at the plate and some clutch hitting. Charlie Fisher had a slow start but showed his power today with a home run and a double.
- Defense has not been good. It isn’t just about the errors. It is mishandling balls and not making plays that should be made.
- How do you explain Drew Christo looking great in his first inning and then not being close to the plate in his next? And, the same thing happens a couple of innings later with Shay Schanaman pitching two outstanding innings and then walking two and hitting two in his third before he was pulled.
- In game one, Nebraska had five hits. In the next three, they had 11, 10, and 17. Double-digit hits in a game should result in wins. They need to hit better with runners on base, but at this point the team is hitting.
The best part of this weekend is that it over. The best part of the early season is that there is a new opponent next weekend when the team travels south to play South Alabama. No one expected Nebraska to go out and sweep a series against a quality team like San Diego, but most who follow the sport expected a couple of wins. It is also a surprise that the bullpen let this team down when coming into the season there are a lot of experienced arms. Coach Bolt and Coach Christy will most likely have some long conversations about the staff and strategy going into the games in Alabama. The coaches got to see a lot of players this weekend and though they have a short week of practice, they will know how to better use them next week.