LINCOLN — With the most accomplished pitcher in program history looking on, the Huskers made sure to put on a show.
There was an unmistakable throwback feel to the evening with a boisterous crowd of 5,211 at Haymarket Park. Shane Komine — the ace hurler and Hawaii native who helped Nebraska to the College World Series in 2001 and 2002 — threw out the first pitch on his bobblehead night. The starting temperature 78 degrees was the warmest of the spring.
Another strong start by Matt Waldron and some opportunistic offense ensured Friday night ended on a positive note as the Huskers topped Nevada 9-6 to clinch just their second series win this season.
“Even early on, like batting practice and all that, I thought it just seemed like it was going to be a good day all around,” said Waldron, who struck out seven and walked none in six innings. “I thought we played really well and the fans were really supportive too. It was definitely fun and exactly what we needed.”
The Huskers early on looked like a team from more glorious times, scoring two runs in first and second innings and pulling away with three more in the seventh. Waldron kept the drama to a minimum, shaking off back-to-back Wolf Pack homers in the second.
Mojo Hagge ignited the crowd with a double to start the bottom of the first inning, and the Huskers scored on RBI hits from Jesse Wilkening and Brison Cronenbold. An error in the second kept the inning alive for Scott Schreiber, who clocked a mammoth shot into a gusting wind over the left field wall for his 15th home run of the season. The blast was the 41st of his career, tying him for sixth all time in program history with his coach, Darin Erstad.
“I had no clue,” Erstad said. “It’s just fun to watch him play.”
The only damper came on the second pitch of the game when the wind blew a foul pop-up back into play, striking shortstop Angelo Altavilla in the face. Erstad said the junior, who was replaced by Cronenbold, was to have surgery on his mouth and jaw Friday night and that his status moving forward is uncertain.
“His front teeth are 45 degrees pushed back, there’s some jaw damage,” Erstad said. “It’s not good. Like I said, our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Cronenbold, who had missed the past 16 games in part because of a back injury, finished 2 for 3 with two walks as NU won consecutive games for just the third time this year. Wilkening and second baseman Alex Henwood also had multiple hits for the Huskers (19-22).
“Friday night, under the lights, warm weather,” Cronenbold said. “You can’t really beat it.”
NU’s nonconference series against the Mountain West leaders wraps up at 12:05 p.m. Saturday.
Nevada (21-18) tied the game in the second on Mike Echavia and Grant Fennell’s wind-aided solo shots to right, but Waldron allowed just one more run over his final four innings. The junior right-hander scattered seven hits on 89 pitches, escaping his only real jam — when three straight two-out singles netted a run in the fifth — by inducing a flyout.
Waldron and Erstad agreed that fastball command and velocity have been key to the pitcher’s stretch of quality outings. On Friday, he touched 93 mph in addition to consistently pounding the strike zone.
Nebraska added more support by scoring on a fielder’s choice, a Henwood hit and a wild pitch during a three-run fifth. NU tacked on another in the seventh when Jaxon Hallmark tripled and scored on a wild pitch to make it 8-3.
The five-run lead shrunk to two in the eighth, when the Wolf Pack got to reliever Matt Warren for three hits. With runners at the corners with two outs and the potential tying run batting, NU called upon Jake Hohensee, who let in a run on a wild pitch before collecting a strikeout and eventually notching a four-out save.
Mike Addante walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth to extend NU’s lead to 9-6.
Erstad said the evening was made more memorable by the presence of Komine, whose picture players see daily for meals inside Memorial Stadium and whose name continues to pepper the program’s record book.
“Just really special to have him come back, his whole family come back, get to meet his parents and his wife and his kids,” Erstad said. “That was a real special moment. With a good crowd, good weather and he’s a pretty special human being.”