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Big Ten Baseball Tournament Recap Day 5

Nebraska Athletic Department

Nebraska second baseman Max Anderson made the comment after last night’s win that when he and his teammates were kids they “played at eight-o’clock in the morning and played at eight-o’clock at night” and didn’t care when they got to play next, they just want to play another game. While Max and his Cornhusker teammates won’t have to set their alarms early Saturday morning, Hawkeye and Wolverine players, coaches and fans will as Day 5 of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament gets underway at 9:00 a.m. at Charles Schwab Field in beautiful downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

Game 11

#3 Iowa - 5

#6 Michigan - 0

Iowa is the best team in the tournament. Period. It is their’s to lose, and that’s not going to happen unless Maryland or Nebraska can figure out a way to put the ball in play, a lot! Hawkeye pitching has been suffocating, and today Ty Landenberg held the pillow down on Michigan’s chances to force an if necessary game. He was very good through seven innings, only giving up two hits and a couple of walks, along with striking out nine. Michigan had no answer for him, and only recorded one more hit off reliever Will Christophersen with a Jonathan Kim double to start off the eighth. Good pitching beats good hitting, and that is what the story has been with Iowa this week and this season.

In addition to great pitching, Iowa has played fundamental baseball on defense and when they are at the plate. They got a little bit of a slow start this morning, but the bottom of the lineup got them going in the third. Brayden Frazier led off with a single off first time starting pitcher and backup Michigan Man quarterback Brandon Mann. He was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and advanced to third when Mann struggled to find the strike zone, intentionally walking Sam Petersen and walking Brennen Dorighi on four straight pitches. Michigan went to the bullpen and brought in sidewinder Eamon Horwedel, who plunked cleanup hitter Raider Tello, scoring Frazier. They scored a second run in the sixth when Michael Seegers stepped on the plate on a triple by Kyle Huckstorf. With a 2-0 lead and Michigan not showing much life, it seemed like Iowa was about ready to blow it open. That happened in the seventh.

Michigan coach Tracy Smith went to the bullpen again and brought in B1G Pitcher of the Year Connor O’Halloran to hold down the Hawkeyes. That didn’t happen. The yellow birds of prey feasted on the lefty, scoring three runs off him on three singles, two walks and a sacrifice fly. That stretched the lead to 5-0, which was plenty for Iowa to win this one. To put an exclamation mark on the victory, Luke Llewellyn came on in the ninth after Chas Wheatley walked and hit a couple batters to blow out Michigan’s candle with three straight strikeouts. Game over.

Iowa is in the 2:00 p.m. winner-take-all championship game tomorrow against a team wearing red, either Nebraska or Maryland. The Hawkeyes have played all tournament with supreme confidence and execution. They also are in very good shape having a couple days of rest since Tuesday for their pitching staff. They also should be thanked by Nebraska and Maryland fans for making a 9:00 p.m. game tonight unnecessary.

Game 12

#1 Maryland - 4

#4 Nebraska - 2

Jackson Brockett took the hill for Nebraska, making his seventh start of the season. The lefty was a little wobbly, but despite giving up three runs in the second inning, that had more to do with blown bunt coverage and Maryland making good swings than it did with the pitches Brockett threw. Coach Rob Vaughn noted in his post-game remarks that he would rather his team mash in runs than play small ball, but you have to do what the circumstances dictate. After Eddie Hacopian stroked a double to start the inning and Matt Woods followed with a single, the Terps executed two consecutive bunts that succeeded because infielders did not cover their base. Then Kevin Keister had a two RBI single and Maryland had a three run lead.

Meanwhile, Terrapin starter Jason Savacool did an outstanding job mixing up his four pitches, relying heavily on his four-seamer to keep Cornhusker batters off balance. The Big Red managed but four hits off the big right hander and never posed a threat to score. Kenny Lippman came on and basically did the same for two innings.

For the Cornhuskers Corbin Hawkins came on in the third, but the submariner didn’t have the same snap on his pitches and the bottom of the Terrapin lineup jumped on him in his second inning. Captain Kyle Perry was then summoned and in spite of a solo home run to Hacopian in the fifth, he did his job until Shay Schanaman made what would be his final appearance as a Cornhusker in the sixth. In fact, both of these fifth-year seniors could hold their heads high for the job they did. It wasn’t the pitching that let Nebraska down today.

In the ninth inning, the boys in red made it interesting and energized the partisan crowd. In reality, it had more to do with the fact that Maryland reliever Nigel Belgrave could not throw the ball over the plate. He faced three batters — Ben Columbus, Dylan Carey, and Garrett Anglim — and walked all of them by only throwing a total of four strikes. Belgrave was pulled for Anthony Johnson who showed some nerves as well. The Cornhusker faithful were rocking the joint, especially when Caleb Evans stroked a single to score Columbus. Griffin Everitt then struck out before a Brice Matthews’ sacrifice fly scoring Carey.

That set the stage for a storybook ending. With two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, up came Max Anderson and his 21 home runs. One swing of the bat would end it, and dang if he didn’t make it exciting driving the right fielder to the warning track to make the catch. Final score: Maryland 4 and Nebraska 2.

Maryland has also made is through the tournament unscathed setting up the final many pundits predicted. Strong pitching is the consistent theme, as well as teams that are well coached and play fundamentally sound baseball. It should be a good one!

Sunday — Championship Day

The first team to punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship game are the Rick Heller led Iowa Hawkeyes. They have romped through the top of the bracket with relative ease, out-scoring their opponents in three games 27-7. Maryland had a tougher fight with two one-run games and the just finished two-run victory over Nebraska. During the regular season Maryland took two of three from the Hawkeyes in College Park the first weekend of April. A lot of runs were scored in that series but going by what we have seen that past five days, expect a low scoring affair. First pitch is at 2:00.