LINCOLN — For a brief swing of the bat, it looked like the breakthrough win — one UNO fans will be talking about for a while — might not happen.
But Jaxon Hallmark’s deep fly ball to the right-field wall settled into the glove of Ben Palensky as Mavericks spilled out of the first-base dugout at Haymarket Park. Nebraska players and coaches held an extended meeting in left field before collecting their gear and departing into the night.
UNO 8, Nebraska 7.
In the big picture, the result means little to a pair of sub-.500 teams that will need to qualify for and win their conference tournaments to advance to postseason play. But on a chilly Wednesday, the Mavs took advantage of more erratic Husker pitching to end a 12-game losing streak to their in-state opponent. It was UNO’s first win in the series since April 1997.
“I think we just played a little better tonight,” UNO coach Evan Porter said. “It was good to get over a hump and get a win tonight. It was a good win, we’ll take it.”
Nebraska (16-19) trailed 8-2 in the sixth inning and rallied to put the go-ahead runs on base in the seventh and eighth. Cal Hehnke earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth that ended with a jolt of adrenaline on Hallmark’s deep final out.
But NU coach Darin Erstad’s warning Tuesday that the UNO game could be “very interesting” — because the Huskers would dive into the depths of their bullpen while saving their best arms for Big Ten action at Rutgers this weekend — played out. Seven pitchers combined for nine walks, seven hits and five hit batters while UNO put at least one runner on in every inning.
“Some other guys just haven’t clicked in their career here,” Erstad said. “But again, we brought all these guys here. We recruited them. We coached them. That’s on us to have them succeed, and that’s the bottom line.
“I personally didn’t really care for our effort early on. For me, that’s the toughest thing to handle right now.”
UNO’s Max Gamm finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs and freshman Tommy Steier drove in two runs in his first career start thanks to a pair of bases-loaded walks. The Mavs (13-19) exceeded last year’s win total and triumphed for the second time in their past seven contests.
Nebraska (16-19) contributed by littering mistakes across multiple frames. Among the lowlights:
First inning: Starter Ethan Frazier issued a five-pitch leadoff walk, NU allowed a bunt single and another grounder by Adam Caniglia went under Luke Roskam’s glove at third base. Runs scored on a Grant Suponchick RBI hit and Gamm’s sacrifice fly.
Third: The Mavs’ leadoff man reached on an error — a dropped infield popup — before Frazier and reliever Andrew Abrahamowicz each forced in runs with bases-loaded walks.
Sixth: Three walks and two hit batters filled the bags for UNO, which batted around and scored on a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk. Gamm added a two-run single off junior righty Byron Hood, who took over for lefty Mitch Steinhoff (two earned runs in 1/3 of an inning).
“They took advantage of us making mistakes and they mixed in their hits,” Erstad said. “They played a better game than we did. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, whether it’s an in-state team, out-of-state team. It doesn’t matter when the team that wins the battle of the free passes is usually going to win. We were on the wrong end of that.”
Roskam said he feels the same after every loss. Two team errors, erratic pitching and untimely offense — 5 for 18 with runners in scoring position — are downers no matter the opponent.
“It just happens,” Roskam said. “That’s baseball. It happens.”
The flurry of free bases came against a UNO squad that entered the night ranked 263rd nationally out of 297 Division I teams in slugging percentage (.329), 225th in scoring (4.7 runs per game) and 213th in on-base percentage (.344). Junior Nolan Hakel, a Lincoln Pius X grad and junior college transfer, went 1 1⁄3 scoreless innings in his Nebraska pitching debut, while freshman Max Schreiber also kept the Mavericks off the board over the same span.
NU had outscored the Mavs 119-38 during their previous 12-game winning streak in the series and claimed 59 of 68 meetings all time. Porter, in his second year as coach, said Wednesday’s outcome resonates a little more with his team — particularly the in-state players who never received recruiting looks from the Huskers — but that they must turn the page as they bus 14 hours to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a Summit League series beginning Friday.
“I think that’s a testament to these guys,” Porter said. “It’s good to get some momentum going into the conference weekend. That’s what they’ll be thinking about and what we’ll be thinking about, too.
“Tonight we just took advantage of some free bases, I think. We ended up scoring when we needed to and getting just enough to win. What I’m most excited about this year is the character of our team and how well they’ve played consistently.”
Roskam tied the game 2-2 with his fourth home run of the spring on two-run, wind-aided shot to right. He added an RBI single in the fifth.
A three-run seventh pulled the Huskers back into the game after trailing 8-2 in the sixth. A fielding error and walk set up Jesse Wilkening’s two-out RBI blooper to right. Angelo Altavilla followed soon after by guiding a full-count pitch into left to score two.
NU again had a chance to take the lead in the eighth. Trailing 8-6, it put the tying runs on for Scott Schreiber — who owns a team-high 11 home runs — and the senior collected an RBI single. Wilkening blistered a liner to second base to end the threat.
Mavs starter Malik Moore went three-plus innings and Keil Krumwiede made his first pitching appearance count with two perfect frames to help UNO build an early cushion it never gave up.
Erstad said he and the staff will continue to try to find a way to inspire quicker starts for a team that “early on in games, it looks like we’re scared, we’re timid.” On Wednesday, he said the weather looked a little too cold for the Huskers, who have lost nine of 12 games.
“They get down and they’re not quitting and they’re coming back and fighting and they’re going to do that,” Erstad said. “But it’s just not a sustainable way of success to be reactive to what the other team’s doing.”