Nebraska Baseball vs. Northwestern Photo No. 12

Nebraska's Garrett Anglim (18), Brice Matthews (14), and Max Anderson (4) celebrate a home run during the game against Northwestern at Haymarket Park on Friday, April 14, 2023, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Despite a roster filled with talent and a historic regular season statistic-wise, Nebraska finds itself in a must-win situation to extend its season past this week. The Huskers have to win the Big Ten Tournament to earn an automatic bid for an NCAA Regional, the first stop on the road to the College World Series.

The No. 4-seeded Huskers started their tournament run with a 9-7 win Wednesday against No. 5-seed Rutgers. The up-and-down game saw Nebraska get out to a three-run lead early before coming back from being down three late.

“There was a lot of intensity in that game,” head coach Will Bolt said postgame. “We haven’t played a lot of games honestly like that.”

Junior pitcher Emmett Olson got the start, going three up, three down in the first. Junior shortstop Brice Matthews fielded the final out with ease after resting the final regular season series at Purdue with back tightness. Matthews almost got the Huskers up early, leading off with a fly ball that took the Scarlet Knight to the center field warning track. 

Nebraska’s first inning was initially over on a groundout by junior second baseman Max Anderson, but the call was overturned to a single after review, keeping the inning alive. The Huskers made the second chance count, as sophomore left fielder Gabe Swansen drew a walk and graduate designated hitter Charlie Fischer went deep with a three-run shot to left. His seventh home run of the season added to his hot hitting, while giving Nebraska an early 3-0 lead.

“I know I got it well,” Fischer said postgame. “If we could get anything going with two outs, especially in the first inning to get the boys going, it’s really all that matters.”

Despite giving up a single and a walk, Olson collected three strikeouts to keep Rutgers scoreless. Junior first baseman Ben Columbus led the bottom of the inning off with a leadoff single while Nebraska continued to incorporate small-ball tactics with freshman third baseman Dylan Carey advancing him with a sacrifice bunt. A walk put Matthews on first, but a flyout by graduate center fielder Casey Burnham left the Huskers with nothing to show.

Olson pitched another scoreless frame in the third, and Nebraska looked to add to its lead again with Swansen, Fischer and Columbus loading the bases for Carey. However, Carey could not drive any home, as a pop-up ended the inning with the Huskers leaving three more runners stranded.

The Scarlet Knights’ offensive struggles continued, as they failed to deliver a run in the fourth despite reaching base for the third consecutive inning. The Huskers were quiet as well, going three up, three down in the bottom of the frame.

After several innings of trying, Rutgers was finally able to crack Olson, with him first walking two batters off of full counts. A fielder’s choice put runners on the corners, and a sacrifice fly got the Scarlet Knights on the board. A two-out single once again placed Scarlet Knights on the corners as they tied the game with a two-RBI double to right center field. That ended Olson’s day after 4.2 innings, only recording three strikeouts. Sophomore pitcher Corbin Hawkins took over, getting the final out of the inning while the Huskers once again went three up, three down in the bottom frame. The big inning for Rutgers tied the game at 3-3.

Hawkins settled things down for Nebraska, retiring the side in the sixth inning. Columbus and junior right fielder Cole Evans both reached base thanks to a hit-by-pitch and walk, respectively. However, a Matthews groundout kept the Huskers scoreless, moving their left-on-base number to seven.

Rutgers hit a leadoff single off of Hawkins before a sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second. That ended Hawkins’ day, as fifth-year pitcher Shay Schanaman took over. Despite recently being named third-team All-Big Ten and being one of two Huskers with Big Ten Tournament experience, Schanaman struggled, loading the bases with a walk. A hit-by-pitch gave the Scarlet Knights the lead while Schanaman walked another batter for another run. Rutgers added one more run to its total off of a sacrifice fly and took a 6-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.

While it looked like all the momentum was on Rutgers’ side, Nebraska said otherwise, attacking the Scarlet Knights’ bullpen. Burnham started things off in the seventh inning reaching first on a hit-by-pitch, quickly moving to third thanks to an Anderson double. Swansen stepped up to the plate as the tying run and delivered a three-run blast to left-center field for his 18th home run of the season. 

Two consecutive outs made it seem like Rutgers was going to escape the inning tied, but a Columbus single opened the floodgates for a run of disastrous pitching. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases for Matthews, who drew a walk on a full count to give Nebraska the lead. Burnham brought in another after getting hit by a pitch for the second time in the inning, in an at-bat where Rutgers had a favorable 0-2 count. Anderson drew another full count and got the free pass, bringing another run home. Rutgers finally recorded the third out off of a Swansen strikeout, but the errant pitching gave the Huskers a 9-6 lead.

“You got to be a little motivated to come back in the game,” Swansen said postgame. “Our guys did a great job with doing team at-bats.”

Fifth-year pitcher Kyle Perry — the other Husker with Big Ten Tournament experience — took the mound in the eighth, walking the first batter he faced. A double and single scored one while placing runners on the corners, ending Perry’s day in the process. Sophomore pitcher Will Walsh came in relief, while Carey, Anderson and Columbus executed a 5-4-3 double play to perfection keeping the score 9-7.

The Huskers were unable to add to their lead in the eighth as Walsh returned to the mound in the ninth. A two-out single kept the Scarlet Knights’ hopes alive, but a lineout to Carey put the nail in the coffin as Nebraska got the first-round win 9-7. 

Walsh only needed to face five batters to earn his fourth win of the year. The starter was moved into a relief role, as the Huskers needed someone to lock down the Scarlet Knights.

“At that point in time, it was ‘we need strikes,’” Bolt said postgame. “I didn’t really have on my baseball bingo card Will Walsh finishing the game tonight, but that’s why you gotta have a strong roster full of guys that are ready to compete.”

Fischer and Swansen both had three RBI with their home runs while seven Huskers showed elite discipline drawing walks.

Nebraska finished with nine runs on seven hits and one error. Rutgers finished with seven runs on nine hits and no errors.

The Huskers will take on No. 1 seed Maryland on Thursday with a trip to the semifinals on the line. The two teams faced off earlier in the month with Maryland winning the series two games to one in College Park. While playing the regular season Big Ten champions is a challenge, Bolt is ready for it.

“It’s gonna be a tough matchup, and we know that,” Bolt said. “But we feel like we’ve got a good team too, and we’re playing well.”