(Photo – Kenny Larabee)
The game was delayed by an hour as some light rain was drizzling in Lincoln, but finally for the first time in 2019, a baseball game was played at Haymarket Park, the latest home opener for Nebraska in 41 years. Although the Husker’s eventually saw their early 4-0 lead crumble, they held on for the win in their home opener.
After not having played in 10 days, the Huskers had some signs of rust, especially on the pitching staff, but they were able to battle through it. “To our guys credit, they found a way to fight through and get the W,” Nebraska baseball head coach Darin Erstad said on the Husker Sports Network following the game. “It’s mid week baseball. It’s college baseball. This is what’s going to happen.”
Reece Eddins got the start on the mound for NU. Through the first two innings, both teams had a couple of hits apiece, but were unable to plate any runs.
Neither team was able to get anything going in the third, either. Eddins shut down the Falcons 1-2-3 in the top half of the inning and the Huskers only mustered up one hit before getting retired in the bottom half of the third.
Mike Waldron took the mound to start the fourth, as Eddins needed to save his arm for Nebraska’s opening conference series this weekend against Michigan State. Eddins had a successful outing. He threw three strikeouts in three shutout innings.
Waldron did allow two hits in the top of the fourth, but was able to get out of the inning unscathed, keeping the game scoreless. However, it wouldn’t remain that way for long, as the Huskers finally broke the stalemate in the bottom half of the inning.
Colby Gomes’ one out single up the middle was able to bring Aaron Palensky home. Then designated hitter Keegan Watson smoked a homerun into the Falcon’s bullpen to bring across three more runs to make it 4-0 Nebraska in the fourth.
That would end Air Force starting pitcher Zach Argo’s day. Luke Chilcutt came in to replace him, who got Jaxon Hallmark to fly out. Spencer Schwellenbach did get on base with a single, but he was caught stealing second to end the inning.
In the fifth, Waldron got pulled in favor of Paul Tillotson after Waldron began the inning by allowing a base hit and walking a batter, respectively. Air Force’s Alexander Pup was then able to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner to third. The next batter grounded out to second base to bring across a run and end the shutout. Next, a double to left center brought in another run for the Falcons to halve the Husker’s lead and close the book on Waldron. Tillotson finally stopped the bleeding, after he struck out Ashton Easley for the final out in the top of the fifth, but the damage had been done.
In the sixth, Palensky hit a triple with two outs, which gave Luke Roskam a shot to drive him in. The shortstop made an error, allowing Roskam to reach first and Palensky to reach home, putting Nebraska up by three runs. Joe Acker flew out to send things back over to Tillotson with a 5-2 lead.
Tillotson would not last through the sixth and neither would the Husker’s lead. Air Force put up a three spot by hitting a pair of one out doubles – one off Tillotson, which would end his day, and one off Shay Schanaman, who replaced Tillotson.
The seventh got off to a strange start for the Big Red. Chad Leunsmann was going to start the inning, but Robbie Palkert had to come in before Leunsmann could even throw a single pitch. Erstad noticed that Leunsmann had a cut on his finger, which was cut wide open after Leunsmann began to pick at it.
After recording the first out of the inning on a ground out, Palkert hit the next batter. Wiss would fly out, but Brown kept the inning alive by singling to right. The next batter drew a walk, and then a wild pitch scored Martinez to give the Falcon’s their first lead of the game.
In the bottom of the seventh though, Nebraska would snatch the lead right back, scoring a run after Luke Roskam was plunked and another run after Acker hit a sacrifice fly to right.
Ben Klenke got Nebraska through the 8th, and then Gomes came on in the ninth to close things out, earning his third save of the season and helping hand his Huskers a 7-6 win in their home opener. Palkert was awarded the win. He’s 1-1 on the season. Falcon’s pitcher Joe Martinez III was tagged with the loss, dropping him to 0-1 on the year.
Palensky went 3-3 and was just a homerun short of the cycle. Schwellenbach was excellent offensively as well, going 3-4 on the day. Watson’s three run shot brought the bulk of the offense for NU, but Roskam, Acker, and Gomes all drove in a run in the game.
The bullpen was busy for Nebraska. No less than seven pitchers saw action on the mound on the day. Only Eddins and Tillotson went longer than one inning. The Huskers have improved to 7-7 with the win.
Nebraska will take on Air Force again on Wednesday. Freshman left hander Kyle Perry will get the start. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35. Pregame coverage will begin at one o’clock on KLIN.