LINCOLN — With eye black still spread across both cheeks, Angelo Altavilla took a deep breath as he thought back through the last 12 hours.
There was Senior Day, then Senior Night. By the time Nebraska’s marathon doubleheader with Michigan wrapped up at 1:16 a.m., it was well into Senior Morning.
“It’s crazy,” Altavilla said as leaf blowers hummed on the field. “I’m sure we’re all tired right now. Go home get some sleep, then gotta work out in the morning.”
The senior shortstop and his Husker teammates went through a whole range of emotions Friday. They disappeared into the night after earning a 7-0 shutout of Michigan in the first half of the twinbill and dropping a 10-8 contest in the regular-season finale.
Had NU completed a late comeback — it had the tying run at second base in the eighth inning — it would have completed a sweep and needed an Indiana loss to Rutgers on Saturday to share the Big Ten title with the Hoosiers.
Instead Big Red will be seeded anywhere from third to fifth at next week’s league tournament in Omaha depending on whether Illinois and Minnesota win their last games. Indiana will take the crown with a Saturday win, otherwise Michigan will finish first by half a game.
“It’s disappointing but at the same time, you can’t worry about the results sometimes,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “The fight they had and to keep fighting and being down and come back, I’m just proud of the guys that they’re still fighting.”
The opener secured the series and very possibly an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament for the Huskers (28-20, 15-9 B1G) later this month. Jaxon Hallmark delivered the game’s big blow with a three-run homer as part of a five-run sixth inning and senior left-hander Nate Fisher spun six scoreless frames.
Fisher was sharp throughout his final start at Haymarket Park against the league’s top scoring offense. He allowed exactly one baserunner in every inning except the fifth, when two walks and a dropped flyball in the outfield loaded the bases with two outs. The senior left-hander coaxed a flyout to right to escape without damage.
Fisher walked five and allowed two hits while striking out seven across 99 pitches, mostly mixing sliders and fastballs. Robbie Palkert authored two perfect innings and Max Schreiber handled the ninth.
“He’s a dog,” Hallmark said of Fisher. “The ball was handed to him, he had to do something sweet and he did something sweet.”
Said Fisher moments later: “I can be a dog if they want me to be a dog, for sure.”
Nebraska gave their starter a lead in the third when singles by Cam Chick and Aaron Palensky set up Joe Acker’s RBI groundout. But the hosts had stranded seven runners as they took a slim edge into the sixth against Michigan lefty starter Tommy Henry.
Just like Thursday’s opening win over Michigan, Alex Henwood was tasked with bunting with two Huskers on and nobody out. And just like Thursday, a dribbler to the left side turned into a throwing error that scored a run.
Hallmark — who entered in a 6-for-48 slump — later dumped a three-run bomb into left-center for the big blow. The moment was nearly identical to last Sunday, when he also hit a hanging slider to the same spot to spark a win over Arizona State.
“Boys are playing good ball, we want to keep playing,” Hallmark said. “Coach said we’re in playoff mentality right now. You gotta win to keep playing, so we’re just treating every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Aaron Palensky punctuated the rally with a solo shot just over the fence in left. Henwood scored on a wild pitch in the eighth for the final run.
The Huskers, who have struggled against lefties of late, pounded Henry for 10 hits and five runs in 5⅓ innings. In addition to Hallmark’s breakout, freshman shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach shook out of an 0-for-23 skid by finishing 3 for 4.
The next game didn’t begin until 3 hours and 51 minutes later, with officials waiting out potentially inclement weather for a 9:44 p.m. start.
Both sides gave up multi-run advantages early. Michigan (38-16, 16-7) led 3-0 in the fourth before Nebraska rallied with a four-run fourth and Cam Chick solo homer to right field into a gusting wind in the fifth. Altavilla’s two-run double and Gunner Hellstrom’s RBI single highlighted the stretch.
The damage all came against Michigan right-handed ace Jeff Criswell, who had allowed just two runs and owned a 0.46 ERA in his previous seven starts (39⅓ innings).
“We’ve got fighters in here, they ain’t going anywhere,” Erstad said. “They’re competing. We ran into a stretch there where we weren’t swinging the bats very well and now guys are competing and doing a nice job. They’re not going away, so let’s hope they keep that up.”
But a Jimmy Kerr two-run blast in the sixth forced NU starter Reece Eddins from the game and reliever Shay Schanaman allowed a three-run tee shot to Jordan Nwogu later in the frame as Michigan regained an 8-5 lead. Jack Blomgren homered in the seventh and the Wolverines tacked on another run in the eighth.
The first five hitters in UM’s order went a combined 3 for 37 in the first two games but were 8 for 22 in the finale.
The late insurance proved costly for Nebraska, which celebrated the first career home run from Colby Gomes in the seventh. Gomes laced a two-run single in the eighth and the Huskers loaded the bases down 10-8 before Chick lined out to second base.
“We needed to wins out of this weekend and we got it,” Altavilla said. “It would have been nice to come back there at the end and fight back there a little bit. But you can’t really complain too much.”