For a Nebraska team which began its first two games of the Big Ten Tournament with stellar play, Saturday’s 18-8 loss to Michigan was a gut punch.
Senior pitcher Reece Eddins’ last start came against Michigan a week ago, when he allowed five runs in five innings of work. He fell far short of that outing against the Wolverines today, as he recorded only three outs and allowed eight runs.
“Reece has always kind of struggled early in the game and we’ve been able to get out of those situations,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said after the game. “They took control of that game from the get-go but we never could get any closer.”
Michigan jumped on Eddins early with a seven-run first inning. Eight hits, mostly hard-hit singles, and a Nebraska error propelled the Wolverines to the early lead. When Eddins returned for the second inning, the end product wasn’t any better, and he was quickly replaced by senior Ethan Frazier.
Nebraska’s sloppy day continued in the third inning. The Huskers nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but errors by Frazier and sophomore outfielder Jaxon Hallmark helped Michigan extend its lead to 9-0.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s red-hot offense, which had scored 19 runs in its previous two tournament games, fell ice cold to begin the game. It took three innings for the Huskers to record their first hit, but they finally began to gain some momentum in the fourth inning.
Senior third baseman Angelo Altavilla began the inning with a single, followed by the Huskers loading the bases with no outs. A pair of fielder’s choices scored two runs, and Nebraska cut the deficit to 9-2 after four innings.
Nebraska continued to chip away at the lead in the fifth inning, with back-to-back solo home runs. Sophomore outfielder Aaron Palensky hit his sixth of the season and freshman shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach hit his second in two days, leaving Michigan up 9-4.
“Our hitters today never gave up and I think that’s one of our strengths as a team,” Frazier said.
If Nebraska was to have any chance at a comeback, it needed to limit its mistakes, but a series of miscues allowed Michigan to kill any comeback dreams. Michigan’s Jack Blomgren reached on a hit by pitch, advanced to second on a wild pitch and eventually scored on a passed ball.
Nebraska’s fourth error of the day helped another two runs score, and the Wolverines reclaimed control with a 13-4 lead. A two-run homer extended the lead to 15-4 and put Nebraska in danger of being mercy-ruled.
The two teams managed to tack on a few final runs as the game went on, with the Huskers putting up three runs in the sixth inning. Michigan countered back with one of its own in the seventh and two more in the ninth, before Nebraska put up one final consolation run to end the game. Ultimately, Michigan’s seven-run first inning and six-run sixth inning spurred it to victory.
Despite scoring eight runs, it was not Nebraska’s most fruitful day at the plate, as much of its offensive production came with the game out of reach. Altavilla led the way, going 3-3 from the plate and reaching on two hit by pitches. Hallmark reached base three times with one hit and two walks.
Nebraska will face off against Michigan again later today, one hour after the conclusion of the Minnesota-Ohio State matchup. The winner will advance to the Big Ten Championship Game tomorrow, while the loser will be eliminated.
“Nothing that happened in that game has any bearing on what’s going to happen in four to five hours,” Erstad said.