Nebraska’s pitching rotation put together a solid performance and the Huskers bounced back from a tough loss earlier in the day to defeat Michigan 7-3 on Saturday night. The Huskers advanced into the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament with the victory, marking their first appearance in the game since 2014.
Neither offense managed to get anything going until the third inning when Nebraska took a 2-0 lead. Freshman Cam Chick began a two-out rally with a single and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. After a walk to sophomore outfielder Aaron Palensky, senior third baseman Angelo Altavilla loaded the bases on a failed fielder’s choice decision from Michigan.
Freshman shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach then continued his red-hot Big Ten Tournament with a two-RBI single which put the Huskers up 2-0. Michigan managed to get one back in the bottom of the inning as a walk, fielder’s choice and single scored a Wolverine runner.
Freshman pitcher Kyle Perry ran into trouble in the fourth inning as he walked two batters and exited the game after 3.1 innings of work. Junior Robbie Palkert delivered two outs and managed to keep Nebraska’s 2-1 lead for the time being.
Nebraska added to its slim lead in the fifth inning, as Altavilla reached base on a hit by pitch and advanced on a wild pitch and a throwing error. Schwellenbach drove in another run with a single, giving the Huskers a 3-1 advantage.
Palkert may have finished the fourth inning strong, but Michigan jumped on him to begin the fifth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases with no outs and he hit the next batter to score a run. A sacrifice fly evened the score at three apiece, but Palkert managed to produce a popup and groundout to limit the damage to two runs.
Michigan ran into bullpen trouble of its own in the sixth inning. Walks to junior outfielder Joe Acker and freshman first baseman Colby Gomes put two runners on for sophomore outfielder Jaxon Hallmark, who drove in a run with a double.
“Our boys didn’t back down at all, so I was very proud of that,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said after the game.
The thousands of Husker fans amassed in TD Ameritrade Park came to life and put the pressure on Michigan reliever Willie Weiss, who walked two more batters to score another run. Weiss bounced back to record the final two outs of the inning, but Nebraska came away with a two-run lead once again.
Nebraska tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth inning when Chick walked, stole second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a throwing error. The Huskers found themselves in a bases-loaded situation once again, with Altavilla scoring on a walk to put them up 7-3.
Palkert continued to keep the Wolverines at arm’s length, with scoreless sixth, seventh and eighth innings. He threw a career-high 5.1 innings and struck out five batters, only allowing one hit after the fifth inning. His command waned deep into the ninth inning before he was replaced by Gomes to close out the game, but Palkert ultimately delivered a crucial pitching performance.
“It’s all about mentality,” Palkert said. “You may not have your best stuff, but you’ve got to compete and continue to attack on that rubber.”
As has been the case throughout the tournament, Schwellenbach was a standout performer at the plate. He went 3-5 and drove in three runs, and he felt the crowd of 11,000-plus helped propel that performance.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Schwellenbach said. “When we get a big hit and the crowd’s cheering really loud, it helps us with confidence, puts stress on their pitcher and it’s just easier to play.”
Nebraska will take on the winner of tomorrow’s 11 a.m. Ohio State-Minnesota matchup one hour after the conclusion of that game for the Big Ten Championship.