Late home runs help Huskers avoid sweep with extra-inning win over Wichita State

WICHITA, Kan. — Zac Repinski paused for a beat before breaking into his first home run trot in a Nebraska uniform. No way this game was getting away now.

Celebratory moments like that felt as rare as a triple play all weekend at windy Eck Stadium. While Wichita State partied at the plate with six homers, including three grand slams, the Huskers entered Sunday 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position. An injury-ravaged pitching corps left little margin in two lopsided defeats.

But there was Repinski with one out, his team in a two-run hole in the top of the ninth and Mojo Hagge at second base. The senior ripped a fastball over the scoreboard in left field to spark a rally that left the Huskers 10-9 winners in 10 innings to avoid a series sweep.

It was the Shockers’ first loss of the season.

“I knew it right off the bat,” said Repinski, who joined the team as a junior college transfer last year. “It’s a heck of a feeling. … It’s just unbelievable that it happened that way.”

Catcher Jesse Wilkening socked a go-ahead homer, the junior’s second of the year and fifth of his career, sending a 2-0 fastball to deep left that didn’t need the wind support it received. Closer Jake Hohensee pitched two scoreless innings to secure the win as the Huskers improved to 14-0-1 on Sundays since May 2016.

“We had a tough first two games, so it is a salvage day,” Wilkening said. “It’s a big deal. Like coach (Darin Erstad) always says, identity day. Today was an identity day for us.”

Nebraska (6-5) returns to action at 1:35 p.m. Thursday against Cal Poly to open a nine-game homestand.

Sunday’s finale capped a roller-coaster afternoon as the teams traded runs. Wichita State (8-1) scored in the each of the first six innings and led 7-2 in the fourth after junior first baseman Alec Bohm mashed his second grand slam and third home run of the weekend with a towering shot to left-center.

But the Huskers responded, tying a season high for scoring in an inning with a five-run fifth to chase starter Connor Lungwitz.

Moved from the leadoff spot to No. 3 in the order for the first time this year, Angelo Altavilla pushed across the first runner with a sacrifice fly after three straight singles. A wild pitch, Wilkening’s two-run double and Luke Roskam’s RBI double followed to tie it 7-7.

Wichita State produced single runs in the fifth and sixth off reliever Paul Tillotson on an RBI groundout and a Mason O’Brien RBI single. The 9-7 lead held until NU, ranked among the worst nationally with three homers in 10 games, went deep twice off closer Tommy Barnhouse.

Hohensee worked around a one-out hustle double from Travis Young in the bottom of the ninth by coaxing a flyout and grounder to short. Bohm reached on a two-base, two-out throwing error in the 10th before Nebraska clinched it on a roller to third.

“They kind of stepped on our throats there with the grand slam and our guys just kept battling, just kept chipping away,” Erstad said. “It’s nice to see an identity-building type of day. Huge job by Mike Waldron and Paul Tillotson out of the bullpen to at least give us a chance to get back into it and just overall just only having one inning where we gave up multiple runs and just making those ones and not twos and threes. Nice job of salvaging a weekend.”

Repinski finished the weekend 6 for 12, hitting second in the order for the first time Sunday. He started a second straight game at second base over Alex Henwood, who is off to a 3-for-27 start.

“(Wichita State) is a heck of a ball team,” Repinski said. “They’re really good. So it’s huge that we could pull out one win against them and salvage the series.”

Nebraska senior Matt Warren endured the shortest of his three starts this spring. The righty was roughed up for nine hits and seven runs — six earned — in 3 1⁄3 innings and 65 pitches. He limited the damage in the first three frames, allowing O’Brien’s RBI groundout in the first after the Shockers loaded the bases with two singles and an error. Leadoff hitter Luke Ritter added an RBI two-out double in the second and O’Brien drove in another run with a single in the third before Warren escaped with a pickoff, strikeout and deep flyout to center.

Bohm delivered the big blow in the fourth to chase Warren. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior from Omaha Roncalli ended the series 3 for 11 — all homers — with nine RBIs, three walks and seven runs.

The Shockers’ offense — ranked 46th nationally, averaging 7.5 runs per game — continued to put the pressure on after Nebraska’s big fifth. Tillotson held it down for two runs after escaping a jam with runners at the corners and no outs in the sixth. He went 2 2⁄3 innings before Mike Waldron retired all six hitters he faced in the seventh and eighth.

Nebraska tacked on single runs in the first (on a fielding error) and third, when Altavilla’s RBI single broke Nebraska’s 0-for-17 weekend with runners in scoring position.

“I thought we took good swings today,” Erstad said. “Guys are pressing so hard, like I’ve said a bunch of times. At some point, as a group, individually, they just say, ‘Screw it. We’re just going to go and have fun and play.’

“Sometimes it takes a little longer to get to that point and we still have a few guys in the lineup that are still feeling that. But that’s OK; it’s gonna happen. But it was nice to see some guys have some fun up there at the plate.”

Nebraska (6-5)…………010 050 002 1—10 11 3

At Wichita St. (8-1)……111 411 000 0— 9 14 1

W: Hohensee, 1-0. L: Barnhouse, 1-1. 2B: NU, Wilkening, Roskam. WSU, Ritter, Young. HR: NU, Repinski, Wilkening. WSU, Bohm.

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