Huskers end skid with rally over Iowa to salvage series finale

Huskers end skid with rally over Iowa to salvage series finale
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — As Mojo Hagge passed Jake Schleppenbach on the way to the batter’s box, he had a question for his teammate who just struck out.

What were the first three pitches you saw?

“He said they were all back-foot sliders,” said Hagge, a walk-on freshman from Omaha Skutt. “So obviously, that was the pitch I was looking for to get on right off the bat — and that’s what it was.”

With two outs in the eighth inning and Nebraska facing a third straight come-from-behind win for Iowa, Hagge pulled the first offering from reliever Josh Martsching into the right-field corner to drive in two runs and put the Huskers back in front for good in a seesaw 8-6 victory Sunday afternoon at Haymarket Park.

Nebraska (21-13-1, 5-3-1 Big Ten) blew two leads against the Hawkeyes to follow a similar script from losses Friday and Saturday. But it pulled out the series finale as the 5-foot-7 Hagge — hitting from the No. 9 spot after leading off in 27 of NU’s last 29 games — came up big in the clutch.

“He’s obviously not been getting as many hits and getting on base as much as he had been earlier,” coach Darin Erstad said. “But (he) stays with it, and obviously a huge hit.”

Scott Schreiber went 3 for 4 with two RBIs, and the offense bailed out starter Jake Meyers from a rare shaky outing and lifted a beleaguered bullpen that allowed late Iowa scores for a third straight day. The Hawkeyes (22-12, 5-4) rapped out 11 hits while falling for the third time in 14 games.

Hagge’s triple brought home Brison Cronenbold and Jesse Wilkening, who singled with one out. Angelo Altavilla added an insurance run with an RBI single and Nebraska ended its first series loss in league play on a high note in front of 5,445.

“Coach Erstad told us, ‘Salvage. Salvage the series. Get after them and get this win today,’ ” Hagge said. “I think this was a big one for us. Being able to come in and get the last game out of three and have a happy Easter was big for us.”

NU struck quickly to begin the weekend finale. It loaded the bases with no one out in the first when Meyers singled, Altavilla reached on a sacrifice-bunt error and Ben Miller walked. Schreiber then guided a two-run single to left off Iowa starter Cole McDonald before the pitcher escaped further damage with a fielder’s choice and 4-6-3 double play.

The Huskers extended their lead to 3-0 in the third when singles by Altavilla and Schreiber set up Luis Alvarado’s RBI hit up the middle.

Meyers went 5 2⁄3 innings, allowing three runs and striking out three, but he started the afternoon strong, giving up a harmless first-inning hit before retiring 12 straight. Iowa got to NU’s junior lefty in the fifth when Tyler Cropley doubled, went to second on a balk and crossed home on an Austin Guzzo hit to right.

The Hawkeyes used a two-out rally to tie the game in the sixth. Jake Adams — one of the nation’s home run leaders with 14 — pulled Meyers’ full-count offering that was well off the plate off the wall in left after Chris Whelan singled. Robert Neustrom then drove in both with a hit to center.

“I think we lost our edge a little bit and they got some momentum going,” Erstad said. “We were able to reset and get it going again, which is not easy to do.”

McDonald’s day ended after three innings and reliever Elijah Wood set down six straight before watching Nebraska come back in the sixth. Schreiber and Alvarado guided balls up the middle and went to second and third on a sacrifice bunt. Schleppenbach’s liner to right-center brought in both to put NU ahead 5-3.

Iowa added a run in the seventh to close to 5-4 when consecutive singles and a fielder’s choice throwing error plated a man and put two in scoring position. The Huskers received a big break to end the threat when Cronenbold chased down a floater to deep short from No. 2 hitter Mason McCoy and doubled off the runner at second base.

But Iowa Western alum Matt Hoeg silenced the crowd in the top of the eighth with a two-out, bases-loaded liner to left for a 6-5 Iowa lead. A weekend sweep seemed likely before Hagge’s triple flipped the game in the bottom half.

“It was definitely a gut-punch. A bunch of guys came in and were really mad about it,” Hagge said. “But as soon as everyone got something to drink (and) came back up to the railing, everybody was fired up and ready to go back at them.”

Chad Luensmann picked up the win in relief for the Huskers, who play at Creighton at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve been very good when we’ve had the lead late,” Erstad said. “It’s about time we pick up one of those (bullpen) guys. They’re not going to be perfect, so it was a nice job by the team of picking them up.”

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