RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Nebraska batted around in each of the final three innings and posted its biggest scoring explosion in a season opener in 23 years as it pulled away from UC Riverside to win 21-6 Friday night.
Sophomore outfielder Jaxon Hallmark drove in five runs during a 4-for-5 breakout and Mojo Hagge went 3 for 3 to headline 10 Huskers who earned hits. NU trailed 5-3 before a six-run seventh, seven-run eighth and five-run ninth put the game out of reach.
Starting pitcher Chad Luensmann — who hadn’t pitched in a game in 622 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year — was nearly perfect through two innings before three errors sent him to the bench after three-plus frames. He allowed five unearned runs while striking out two.
NU left-hander Connor Curry entered to limit the fourth-inning damage to three runs and eventually earned the win in his first appearance since 2017. Another pitcher coming off arm surgery, the sophomore from Lincoln Southeast logged four scoreless innings while letting just two Highlanders reach base.
The Huskers trailed 5-3 when Curry took the hill but turned that around in a major way in the final third of the contest. They drew nine walks and received multi-hit efforts from Angelo Altavilla, Gunner Hellstrom, Aaron Palensky, Luke Roskam, Joe Acker, Hallmark and Hagge. NU finished with 20 hits overall, including 17 singles.
“Like I’ve said from day one, we have a team that fights,” NU coach Darin Erstad said during his postgame radio interview. “This team ain’t going anywhere, and they’re going to be very annoying to face.”
The 21 runs are more than Nebraska scored last year in a 24-28 season.
Erstad said Hallmark was especially impressive considering an offseason wrist injury had him scuffling into February.
“He saw the ball a lot better outside than he has inside,” Erstad said. “He was really dealing with his wrist thing after getting hit in summer ball, and his strength wasn’t back in his wrist. He’s been working really hard to get his swing feeling good in the last few weeks and it hasn’t really shown. But, boy, the lights turned on and he really delivered.”
The game — moved up two hours because of rain — featured four Huskers making their Nebraska debuts as starters.
Freshmen Spencer Schwellenbach, Cam Chick and Colby Gomes all reached base, with Schwellenbach’s bases-loaded hit by pitch accounting for the game’s first run. Palensky, a junior-college transfer and Papillion-La Vista South grad, was 2 for 5 with an RBI out of the cleanup spot.
The teams return to action Saturday for a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m. before closing out the series Sunday afternoon.
Nebraska (1-0)…….012 000 675 – 21 20 3
UCR (0-1)……………002 300 001 – 6 8 2
W: Curry, 1-0. L: Noonan, 0-1. 2B: NU, Peterson, Hagge, Acker.