LINCOLN — While most of his teammates played the video game “Fortnite” during a 65-minute weather delay, Matt Waldron sat away from the clubhouse action and waited.
When the junior right-hander eventually toed the mound on a frigid afternoon, he posted the kind of line that likely earned him the title of Nebraska’s new Saturday starting pitcher for the foreseeable future.
Waldron dominated in his most effective start in nearly two years, holding a potent Minnesota lineup to two runs across seven efficient innings in an 8-2 Husker victory at Haymarket Park. Scott Schreiber muscled a pair of home runs, and the offense scored in each of the first five innings as NU evened its first Big Ten series of the spring.
“We know it’s time to start getting going,” Waldron said. “Really, don’t want to miss any opportunity that we have.”
With injury and ineffectiveness forcing coach Darin Erstad to try yet another weekend starter, Waldron capitalized on his chance by giving up one harmless single and nothing else in six of his seven innings.
The Omaha Westside grad also struck out five and walked none across 93 pitches that allowed the Huskers stay away from a depleted and volatile bullpen.
“Oh my gosh, if you would have told me that before the game (about Waldron), I would have given you a big hug and said, ‘Sure, we’re going out to supper,’ ” Erstad said. “That was above and beyond what we expected to get out of him.”
Minnesota (15-9, 1-1) scored an unearned run in the fourth on a wide throw from catcher Luke Roskam that sailed into center field on a sacrifice bunt try, and Jordan Kozicky added a sacrifice fly as the Gophers drew within 4-2. But that was as close as Minnesota would get after winning 5-1 on Friday.
The battle between the past two Big Ten regular-season champions wraps up beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Huskers (13-10, 1-1) relentlessly peppered Minnesota junior Nick Lackney (three-plus innings, four earned runs) Saturday in the worst of the lefty’s six starts this spring. Joe Acker earned an RBI groundout in the second after a hit batsman and a bloop single set the table. Two Minnesota errors led to a Zac Repinski sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Schreiber, the only Husker player wearing short sleeves on a 39-degree day that felt closer to 30, recorded his fifth career multihomer game (and second this season) with a pair of opposite-field shots to right on fastballs on the outer half of the plate. The senior from Wisconsin who came back to NU after being selected in the 26th round of last year’s Major League Baseball draft socked a two-run blast in the first, then clubbed his sixth homer of the spring to the same spot with a solo shot in the third.
“It’s still a dream of mine to play pro ball,” said Schreiber, who finished 3 for 4 with a walk. “But I’m just so blessed and fortunate to play here, play under the coaches, come back with my teammates. I’m just so blessed with everything that it was kind of an easy decision in the same breath to be able to come back here and be able to play my last year.”
Said Erstad: “He feels like he has another level in him, and I think he does. It’s just a matter of keeping consistent with that. With him, it’s no secret out there. When he’s not chasing pitches, he’s very difficult to get out.”
The Huskers batted around in the fifth for three more runs against Minnesota reliever Brett Schulze — a sophomore who entered the game with a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings — to go up 8-2. Roskam (sacrifice fly) and Jaxon Hallmark (two-run single) provided the scoring in the five-hit inning.
Paul Tillotson threw two scoreless innings to close out the game for Nebraska.
First pitch was delayed 65 minutes as the teams waited for the “feels like” temperature to reach at least 28 degrees in accordance with Big Ten rules. The actual temperature of 39 degrees was the coldest the Huskers have played in this season.
But the conditions mattered little to Waldron, who felt he commanded his change-up better than in three previous starts this spring that went a combined nine innings. Yes, he said, starting on a Saturday was “definitely something I don’t want to let go by.” He’s also made five relief appearances to this point.
Erstad said he knows Waldron prefers to start and pointed to his “astronomical” .391 batting average against that was bound to normalize. The next step is to see if he can keep the outs coming as league play continues.
“He mixed his pitches,” Erstad said. “He came out, great height on his fastball and was throwing his breaking ball for a strike, change-up for a strike. You’re mixing three pitches, you got a fighting chance. We needed a big start from him and, boy, did he ever deliver.”