Once the final out of the Big 10 Tournament was recorded, the team in red began to dog pile at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, but it wasn’t the home state team participating in the celebration. For the third time since they joined the Big 10, the Nebraska baseball team (31-22) has lost a conference championship game. It has been 14 years since the Huskers last won a conference tournament.
Over 17,000 strong (17,513 in all, the second largest single game attendance in all of college baseball this year) came to watch the Huskers vie for conference tournament glory, but it was not to be for the Big Red as they fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes 3-1, only mustering up four hits all game.
OSU began the game on a strong foot. Nebraska starting pitcher Matt Waldron found himself in some trouble in the top of the first after Ohio State got two men on with a single and a walk, respectively. Although Waldron struck out the next batter, Buckeye left fielder Brady Cherry found the ball with his bat for a base hit to left field that brought in a run.
Waldron ran into the exact same situation in the bottom of the third. With one out, Ohio State had two men on and Cherry at the plate. This time though, Waldron punched him out on a 12 pitch at bat. That would be Waldron’s last inning, as his brother, Mike, replaced him on the mound to start the fourth.
NU head coach Darin Erstad said he got “talked into” starting Waldron, who Erstad had sworn would not pitch again after throwing 121 pitches in their Wednesday win against Minnesota in the first round of the tournament.
“He was pretty adamant about wanting the baseball,” Erstad said. “Being a senior, I was like, ‘let’s go.’”
His replacement, Mike Waldron, only faced two batters, both of whom got base hits. Nebraska dipped back into their bullpen to grab right hander Shay Schanaman, a freshman from Grand Island, to try and get themselves out of the inning unscathed.
However, the Buckeyes were able to add their second run of the afternoon on a sacrifice fly in the inning. Originally, the base runner was called out at home on a bang-bang play at the plate, but after an official review, the call was overturned. Through four innings of play, Ohio State led it 2-0.
Schanaman was rock solid after that. His fantastic day on the bump was overshadowed by NU’s lack of productivity on offense though, but it’s still worth noting; Schanaman held Ohio State to just one run on two hits in four innings of work.
Nebraska’s lack of productivity had a lot to do with Buckeye starting pitcher Griffan Smith, a southpaw, who limited NU to just two hits through five innings. What made that feat more impressive was that just three days prior, Smith had thrown 110 pitches in OSU’s game against Maryland.
“That’s been kind of our weakness all year, facing left handed pitching,” Erstad said.
But in the top of the sixth, Smith showed some slight signs of cracks, walking two batters after an error to load the bases with two outs. By the time he was replaced, Smith had thrown a total of 90 pitches.
The Huskers took advantage, working a bases loaded walk to halve Ohio State’s lead 2-1 in the inning. But NU couldn’t do any more damage as the next batter, Alex Henwood, flew out to end the inning.
Nebraska could’ve used more production there, as they came up short the very next inning after stringing together a walk and a single to put two on with no one out. Angelo Altavilla grounded out to third base, Cam Chick was called out looking at a strike (who had some choice words to share with the home plate umpire after the strikeout that aren’t fit to print) and Aaron Palensky got thrown out at first by a razor thin margin that had to be reviewed to confirm the call. Had the call been overturned, the game would’ve been tied at two since Joe Acker was able to move from third base to home on the play.
Ohio State added their third and final run of the day in the bottom of the eighth on a sacrifice fly. Nebraska had one final shot to even things up and send it into extras in the top of the ninth, however all three of NU’s batters in the inning struck out swinging to end the game.
The season likely isn’t over though for the Huskers, as a bid to the NCAA Tournament could be in the cards for Nebraska.
“This team isn’t going anywhere,” Acker told reporters following the game. “We’re going to get back to Lincoln. We’re going to rest up and we’re going to hopefully find out where we’re going to go for a regional.”