SURPRISE, Ariz. — Nebraska dropped a pair of games Friday to seventh-ranked Oregon State. But unlike recent encounters, this doubleheader was competitive throughout.
The Huskers put the tying runs on base in the sixth and seventh innings of the opener from Surprise Stadium before falling 8-2. They were tied into the bottom of the eighth of the nightcap until the Beavers rallied for a 5-3 victory.
Nebraska (3-3) and OSU (6-0) resume their four-game series Saturday at 6 p.m.
Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman — a potential No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft — made a major impact in both outcomes. His three-run homer in the opener pushed his team’s lead to 5-0, and his solo shot to lead off the eighth inning broke the tie in the nightcap and represented the winning run.
Meanwhile, Husker hitters struck out a combined 27 times against OSU pitching and stranded 14 baserunners.
“When you’re facing quality pitching and you get your pitch, you can’t miss it,” NU coach Darin Erstad said during his postgame radio interview. “Right now we’re trying to get our confidence going. This is who we have to beat if we want to go anywhere.”
Friday’s late game carried the most drama between two programs meeting for a third straight season. Nebraska began the game with three straight singles but couldn’t score following three straight strikeouts looking. Oregon State jumped to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a Troy Claunch homer and two-run single from Alex McGarry.
Nebraska responded with a three-run third on a run-scoring Aaron Palensky single and two-run Gunner Hellstrom double. All came against preseason All-American Bryce Fehmel, who struck out 10 in six innings.
The teams traded scoreless innings until the eighth. NU freshman Kyle Perry lasted just 1⅓ innings, but senior Mike Waldron was stellar in relief. The Omaha Westside grad set a career high with nine strikeouts, retiring the final 14 hitters he faced.
Oregon State took the lead when Rutschman homered to straightaway center off Robbie Palkert in the eighth, then tacked on an insurance run to stay unbeaten.
The opener saw OSU starter and preseason All-American Kevin Abel retire the first 10 Husker hitters he faced and earn 10 strikeouts across 5⅓ innings. The bullpen was scoreless from there despite NU loading the bases in both the sixth and seventh innings and trailing by three.
“We didn’t get the big hit and put ourselves in a situation where their best hitter had two guys on base and not an open base to walk him,” Erstad said. “That just can’t happen.
“… But we’re early in the season. We’re nowhere near the product we’re going to be. I’m still not super happy with the way we’re playing defense right now. But it’s a little wet out there and we haven’t had a ton of practice, so I’m going to give them a little bit of a break. But we need to bounce back.”
Rain pushed back the doubleheader’s start time two hours, and a 44-minute weather delay in the sixth inning of the opener added to the wait. Abel and NU starter Chad Luensmann traded zeroes through three innings, with the defending NCAA champs scoring first on an infield hit in the fourth. Husker second baseman Alex Henwood injured his left shoulder on the play and left the game.
Luensmann, making his second career start after missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, lasted a career-long 4⅓ innings and struck out four. But an OSU walk and RBI single forced him from the game and, after Connor Curry came on to issue a walk, Adley Rutschman deposited a pitch into left-center field for a home run that made it a 5-0 game. Rutschman is widely considered to be the best college prospect in the upcoming MLB draft.
“Right now (for Luensmann) it’s about mentality, going out there and continuing to fight and working through this this early in the season,” Erstad said. “It’s one of those things where he just hasn’t been on the field.”
An Angelo Altavilla double led to a run in the sixth and Palensky added an RBI single to draw NU within 5-2. The Huskers loaded the bases later in the inning and again in the seventh but did no further damage.
Oregon State (5-0) added two more runs fueled by pitcher Ben Klenke’s throwing error in the seventh and another in the eighth on a single from Alex McGarry, who finished 3 for 4.
Nebraska committed three errors in the game but was outhit just 6-5.
Nebraska……………000 002 000—2 5 3
Oregon State………000 140 21x—8 6 1
W: Abel, 1-0. L: Luensmann, 0-1. 2B: NU, Altavilla; OSU, McGarry. HR: OSU, Rutschman.
Nebraska (3-3)……………003 000 000—3 9 1
Oregon State (6-0)………030 000 02x—5 7 1
W: Eisert, 3-0. L: Palkert, 0-1. 2B: NU, Hellstrom. HR: OSU, Rutschman, Claunch.