Emotions were high on Sunday, as it was senior day at Haymarket Park with 10 Nebraska baseball players being honored before their last home game. The sentimental pregame did not hinder the Huskers' performance, as they did their job and sent the seniors out with a win.
Nebraska defeated Penn State 8-5 to complete the season series sweep. The big win moved the Huskers to 29-20-1 (13-8 Big Ten) and secured them a spot in the conference tournament.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Will Walsh resumed his role as Sunday starter, giving up two hits with two outs, including a double that took an unlucky bounce off the third base bag. He looked to get out of the inning clean, but a throwing error by junior shortstop Brice Matthews brought in a run. Walsh struck out the next batter as Penn State got out to an early 1-0 lead.
Nebraska responded immediately with Matthews drawing a leadoff walk and senior center fielder Casey Burnham advancing him with a sacrifice bunt. Junior second baseman Max Anderson tied the game with a stand-up double scoring Matthews. A Nittany Lion outfielder made a phenomenal play, making a diving catch on a deep ball by sophomore left fielder Gabe Swansen. However, Anderson turned on the jets, tagging his way from second all the way home. Sophomore catcher Josh Caron followed that up with his seventh home run of the season, and the Huskers took a 3-1 lead after one.
Walsh went three up, three down in the second, while Nebraska looked to add to its lead with junior right fielder Cole Evans and freshman third baseman Dylan Carey reaching base with singles. After a walk loaded the bases, Burnham earned an RBI the hard way by getting hit by a pitch for the 19th time this season. While the bases were still loaded, Anderson grounded into a double play, leaving the Huskers up 4-1.
The third inning saw Walsh produce another 1-2-3 inning, but Nebraska could not add to its lead. Walsh had a rough start to the fourth, giving up a leadoff single before letting up a two-run shot to right on the next pitch. A mound visit helped Walsh regroup, as he retired the next three batters, but the Nittany Lions slimmed the Husker lead to 4-3.
Two walks gave Nebraska some promise in the bottom frame, as Carey moved the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. The Penn State defense shifted in to eliminate anything short, and the strategy proved successful as Matthews and Burnham both lined out to end the inning.
Walsh’s day was done as sophomore pitcher Corbin Hawkins took over on the mound, going three up, three down in the fifth inning. The Huskers added some insurance in the bottom frame when Anderson hit a leadoff single. Swansen gave Nebraska a three-run advantage with a two-run shot to right field, his 16th of the season.
Despite two hits putting Nittany Lions on second and third, Hawkins worked around the adversity, pitching another scoreless frame. The Huskers went three up, three down in the bottom of the inning, keeping the score 6-3.
Penn State made some noise in the seventh inning, reaching base with a pair of singles. An errant throw by Caron on a steal attempt scored one while the Nittany Lions put another on with a single. That ended Hawkins' day with fifth-year pitcher Shay Schanaman taking over his duties after pitching two innings in the win on Saturday. Penn State brought in another on a groundout, but Schanaman ended the inning with a strikeout keeping Nebraska up 6-5. The Huskers could not respond in the bottom frame despite Anderson maneuvering his way to third.
After getting one out in the eighth, Schanaman walked off the mound at Hawks Field for a final time, receiving a standing ovation from the Husker faithful.
“I’m gonna miss it,” Schanaman said postgame. “I remember my first outing here and now the last one. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Schanaman was replaced by another senior as Kyle Perry came in. Perry tossed consecutive outs, keeping the Nittany Lions scoreless. Evans took the first pitch of the bottom frame for a double with Carey moving him to third with another sacrifice bunt. A Matthews foul out looked to hurt the Huskers, but Burnham drew a walk on a full count, keeping the inning alive. Penn State made a questionable call to intentionally walk Anderson, bringing Swansen to the plate with the bases juiced. Swasen made them pay, hitting a two-RBI double. His fourth and fifth RBIs of the game gave the Huskers some breathing room as they led 8-5 heading into the ninth.
“They intentionally walked [Anderson] ‘cause they want to get to me,” Swansen said postgame. “You live for those moments, and being able to do it is all the hard work paying off.”
Perry came back on the mound in the ninth looking to close out his senior day in style. He did just that by going three up, three down, including striking out the last batter on three pitches, clinching the 8-5 Husker win and series sweep. It was fitting that Schanman and Perry were the two closing out their final home as they spent their last five years with the program.
“They’ve meant a lot to us,” head coach Will Bolt said postgame. “Those guys will be guys I want in my corner for the rest of my life just because they’re fighters and their competitors.”
The weekend saw a different approach from Nebraska as it focused on a small ball-style offense consisting of sacrifice bunts and drawing walks. While the long ball has proven to be successful all year, the implementation of the short game allows everyone to contribute.
“It’s a lot of fun when you call on something and it gets executed,” Bolt said postgame. “Carey laid down a bunch of great bunts this weekend… guys at the bottom of the order were huge.”
Hawkins got the win — moving him to 3-0 on the year — while Schanaman and Perry each recorded a strikeout on their senior day. Swansen led the Huskers with five RBI on two hits and a home run.
Nebraska finished with eight runs on nine hits and two errors. Penn State finished with five runs on 10 hits and no errors.
The Huskers will wrap up regular season play on Thursday, where they take on Purdue in the first of a three-game series.