A partisan crowd packed TD Ameritrade Park for a second time in a matter of hours. This time Nebraska performed like a potential Big Ten tournament champion.
With "Go Big Red!" chants reverberating through the stands, the Huskers rebounded from a 10-run defeat to Michigan earlier Saturday by knocking out the second-seeded Wolverines 7-3 in an elimination semifinal. Freshman Spencer Schwellenbach drove in three runs while starter Kyle Perry and Robbie Palkert combined to hold down the league’s second-leading scoring offense.
Fifth-seeded Nebraska (31-21) advances to the tourney finals for the first time in five years. It will face either fourth-seeded Minnesota or seventh-seeded Ohio State on Sunday afternoon one hour after that 11 a.m. semifinal finishes. NU is searching for its first-ever Big Ten postseason title.
A two-run top of the sixth broke a 3-3 tie to send the Huskers on their way. Joe Acker walked on four pitches, moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt and later scored on Jaxon Hallmark’s first-pitch double to left-center. Aaron Palensky’s bases-loaded walk later in the frame forced in another run as the standing crowd roared.
In its fourth game of the week, Nebraska turned to the 19-year-old freshman Perry to start in what was his first action of any kind in a month. The left-hander from Millard South allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings, giving up only a two-out RBI single to Jesse Franklin in the third after two clean frames.
Palkert, a junior ace reliever entered with two on and one out in the fourth with a 2-1 lead and promptly escaped with a strikeout and groundout. Michigan tagged him for two runs in the fifth to tie the game 3-3 — three straight singles, a hit batter
and Jimmy Kerr sac fly did the damage — but the righty retired 11 of the next 12 hitters and finished the victory.
He lasted a career-high 5 2/3 innings and 95 pitches in all, saving the rest of the bullpen for Sunday’s title game. The Wolverines loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth before Colby Gomes entered for the one-out save.
Michigan’s pitching corps was even more depleted after working back through the losers’ bracket earlier in the week and started sophomore southpaw Angelo Smith for the fourth time this spring. Smith went a career-long 4⅔ stanzas backed by a lively slider.
But Schwellenbach got to him twice in two-out spots. His two-run single with the bases loaded in the third put NU ahead 2-0, then the freshman laced a ball to left-center for an RBI in the fifth to push the lead to 3-1.
Schwellenbach is 7 for 16 (.438) with nine RBIs in four tournament games.
The Huskers added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on a throwing error and Alex Henwood bases-loaded walk. They generated more than enough offense despite stranding runners in every inning and 15 overall.