Nebraska’s trip to Omaha Wednesday wasn’t going to unfold like the last one. Senior Ben Miller could tell that on the bus ride over.
The NU team that came out static and unengaged during a 5-2 loss to its rival last month entered TD Ameritrade Park this time with a little more bounce, spirit and spunk — and even though batting practice wasn’t the sharpest, the players still resembled a group ready to compete.
In other words, according to Miller and coach Darin Erstad, the Huskers looked like themselves Wednesday.
And it showed in a convincing 4-0 victory over Creighton (22-19). NU created enough chances early to build a lead and its pitching staff did the rest, securing yet another season-series win against the Jays.
“It’s how they’re moving their feet on defense, how they’re (taking) secondary leads during base running during batting practice — you can just see the way their body language is,” Erstad said. “For the most part, it’s usually really good.”
Last month’s loss to CU was the apparent outlier.
it’s been seven years since Creighton has defeated Nebraska twice in the same season. The Huskers maintained control of the rivalry Wednesday by playing the same fundamentally sound, hard-nosed style that’s led to a recent hot streak.
NU (30-16-1), which has won six in a row, went ahead 1-0 on freshman Luke Roskam’s RBI groundout in the third. The Huskers added two more runs two innings later when sophomore Angelo Altavilla singled in a run and Roskam drove in another with a sacrifice fly. The insurance run came in the eighth.
“It starts with the energy in our preparation,” Miller said. “The bus ride getting here. Batting practice. Our stretch. That led into our pitchers setting the tone those first few innings.”
The starter, sophomore right-hander Ethan Frazier, combined on the shutout with sophomore right-hander Robbie Palkert, sophomore left-hander Jake McSteen, sophomore Chad Luensmann and junior right-hander Luis Alvarado. It was the third shutout of the year for the Huskers, who’ve reached the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive season.
NU pitchers attacked the lower portion of the strike zone, inducing weak contact and keeping CU’s scuffling hitters from gaining any level of comfort. Erstad noted, too, that his pitchers did well establishing their fastballs on the inside portion of the plate to right-handers.
Creighton’s lineup didn’t have an answer.
CU did get its leadoff man on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. But on each occasion, the next man up struck out. Nebraska used two of its four double plays on the night to end two of those threats as well.
“Early in the count, when we had runners on … we swung at pitcher’s pitches,” CU coach Ed Servais said. “To their credit, the pitchers kept the ball down.”
The Jays could use some sort of confidence boost offensively at some point soon.
They scored seven runs in a win over UNO Tuesday — but left 14 men on base. Before that game, CU had managed just 13 runs in its previous six contests, hitting .225 as a team during that span.
Wednesday’s result, in front of 8,478 fans, marked the second time in their last three outings that the Jays have been shut out.
They weren’t completely focused in other aspects of the game, either.
Senior starter Austin Stroschein threw first-pitch strikes to the first two hitters he faced Wednesday, but ended up walking both. A leadoff walk in the third inning led to a run. Stroschein hit the first batter he faced in the two-run fifth.
There was a line drive to right field that Jason Allbery, standing on second after a leadoff double, momentarily misread in the CU’s half of the fifth — he froze and ultimately had to be held at third base. A double play ended the threat.
Freshman Will Robertson, who made a sensational diving catch in the seventh, tried for another in the eighth. But the ball skipped past him. Freshman second baseman Isaac Collins hesitated a bit on the relay throw — and Alvarado glided in for a triple, ultimately scoring NU’s fourth run.
The Jays, who’ve made late-game heroics a routine lately, couldn’t even flirt with a comeback attempt after that.
“We were just missing … we were just a half a step late on a lot of stuff out there,” Servais said. “I don’t have any answers to why we didn’t play with a little more passion and enthusiasm.”
CU hosts McNeese State for a three-game series beginning Friday. Nebraska hosts Michigan State for three this weekend.