Two words. Will Walsh. The Huskers were hurting for some pitching after having a couple close games, including an extra inning affair Thursday night. They needed someone to step up, so they could reset their bullpen for what they hope to be a long Saturday afternoon of baseball. To start the first elimination game of the season Friday night they handed the ball to Walsh, and he didn’t give it back.
Walsh went 9 innings vs a Michigan State team that had come in with the #2 batting average in the conference in the regular season. “I liked the matchup. They hit lefties better, but he gets the change up in there (when it’s) lefty on lefty” said Husker head coach Will Bolt. Walsh limited the Spartans to 4 hits, zero walks, and 7 strikeouts, including striking out the side in the 9th inning, with the final one being against unanimous All Big Ten first baseman Brock Vradenburg.
Nebraska, a day after being in a close game for 10 innings which ended in heartbreak, found itself right back in the same position on this day. They were able to get baserunners in each of the first 3 innings, but didn’t break through against Michigan State freshman starting pitcher Joe Dzierwa until the 4th. DH Charlie Fischer singled into center field, and sensing this would be a low scoring affair, Coach Bolt had Dylan Carey bunt him over to second base. First baseman Ben Columbus then stepped up and found a hole in the middle of the field for an RBI single, and a 1-0 Husker lead.
Lumbo gives us the first run of the ballgame. pic.twitter.com/YQ8viiYUhs— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) May 27, 2023
The pitchers and defenses took over for another stretch of the game. Walsh continued to pound the strike zone, he would throw an incredible 75 of his 104 pitches for strikes. It was the left side of the Husker defense that came up with two spectacular plays that kept Michigan State from what may have been two doubles.
First in the 4th, Vradenburg hit a fairly sharp fly ball to left, it was in the outfield but going to be well in front of Husker left fielder Gabe Swansen who was trying to get over to cut it off from going to the wall, but Brice Matthews flew in from his short stop position and snatched the ball right out of the air, barely breaking stride as he jogged close to the warning track.
Then in the 6th, it looked like Spartan leadoff hitter Jack Frank hit a ball that was potentially leaving the field, but ended up falling just short of the wall and into the glove of Swansen as he twisted and turned trying to track down the ball slicing with the wind, before ending up flat on his stomach as he pulled in the catch.
The game turned in the 8th, Fischer drew a 1 out walk, and Bolt sent in pinch runner Luke Sartori. Sartori stole second as Michigan State sat in their shift against right handed batters, as the did against 6 Husker batters on the night. Dylan Carey couldn’t bring him in, but Ben Columbus for the second time on the night found a hole in center to bring in a run 2-0 Big Red.
Sensing the reliever for MSU was nearing the end of his night, Garret Anglim worked a walk, bringing Casey Burnham up for the Huskers. Burnham has had a rough time in Omaha, so much so that he was dropped from 2nd in the batting order to 9th. It looked like his rough week would continue as he hit a choppy grounder toward first base. However, the ball took the most wild hop this writer has seen in his 200+ games viewed in this stadium and bounced over Vradenburg (no small feat as he stands 6’7). Both runners would end up scoring on what became a triple for Burnham. “Bernie has had some tough luck. Some bad at bats, but some he’s hit right on the screws. He was owed that one by the baseball gods tonight,” said Bolt.
That ball had a spring in it. pic.twitter.com/MDganSEcnJ— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) May 27, 2023
Walsh then climbed the mound again for both the 8th and 9th, and for those of us lucky enough to remember it started to feel like when a much smaller in stature Shane Komine used to climb the mound on a Friday night, under the lights, at the brand new Haymarket Park. Goosebumps as the crowd clapped to serenade the pitcher to send the batter back to his dugout. Roars filled the Capital of College Baseball just like they did as Komine strolled around the the mound as Bolt and his teammates whipped the ball around the horn.
Can this team capture some of that nostalgia for a run through this weekend? They’ve capture two of their four tournament championships from the losers bracket before, and it usually includes a special performance like this. Lets hope people remember the “Will Walsh Game” the same way they remember Johnny Dorn avenging the opening round Texas Tech loss with a 2-1 victory, or Brian Duensing helping shut out Baylor 1-0 in 2005 on the Huskers last run to a tournament championship.
Nebraska will take on Maryland in their next game on Saturday at 1 pm CT. If Nebraska wins and depending on the outcome of the 9 am Iowa-Michigan game, they would then play at either 5 pm or 9 pm for the right to advance to the championship game on Sunday.
We’re moving on.— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) May 27, 2023
See y’all tomorrow at 1 PM. pic.twitter.com/I8xRRAeiJb
- Max Anderson went 4-4 on the night, and became the first player in the country to collect 100 hits. He is the 8th player in Husker history to get 100 hits in a season. The first since Jed Morris and Jeff Leise both did it in 2002.
- Anderson also leads the country in total bases at 187. This is the 4th best season by a Husker, 201 is the record by Jed Morris in 2002
- Anderson is sitting at .418 for his batting average, that is tied for 10 all time at Nebraska.
- Vote for Max Anderson for the Golden Spike Award!