LINCOLN — It took Luis Alvarado a few innings to find his slider. His changeup never really felt good.
But there was the senior right-hander, still doing what Nebraska desperately needed its Friday starter to do. Get outs. Be efficient. And, please, limit free bases.
One day after six Husker pitchers combined to walk 10 batters and hit three more, Alvarado set the tone early against Cal Poly in a 4-0 victory Friday afternoon at Haymarket Park. The power pitcher scattered five hits and one walk while striking out eight in a seven-inning, 115-pitch clinic.
The Puerto Rico native, who served as co-closer last season, did not go past six innings or 90 pitches in his first three starts of the season.
On Friday, he didn’t allow a Mustang to reach second base after two outs in the first inning and retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, exiting to an ovation after Dylan Doherty struck out swinging.
“I still felt pretty comfortable,” said Alvarado, the son of a boxing trainer. “I wanted to go out again, but being at 115 for the first time in a lot of years — probably the first time in my life — then, you know, gotta take it easy. But I feel pretty good.”
Redshirt freshman Paul Tillotson went the final two innings to complete the shutout and record his first career save. The result was the best-case scenario for the Huskers (7-6) and their injury-riddled pitching staff as they complete their four-game series against Cal Poly (6-8) with a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 12:05 p.m.
The manner of Friday’s win is also a welcome sight for NU coming off a three-error outing Thursday that led to its first home-opening loss in 40 years. The Huskers were spotless in the field this time, surrendered just two walks and consistently moved baserunners over and in when they had an opportunity.
“It starts on the mound like we always talk about,” Erstad said. “Louie was sharp and Paul did a nice job behind him. We took care of the baseball and that’s what our foundation of how we play (is). It was good to see them bounce back.”
Joe Acker, making his third start of the season in center field and sixth of his career, gave Nebraska a 1-0 lead when he began the third inning with a single, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and passed ball before scoring on a wild pitch.
The sophomore said everything is easier when the guy throwing the ball is dealing.
“It’s huge when you got a pitcher on the mound who’s just pounding strikes and getting outs,” Acker said. “It’s contagious, to say the least, for all of us defenders and even hitters. It keeps the game up and the tempo is perfect.”
Cal Poly senior left-hander Trent Shelton (62⁄3 innings, three earned runs and seven strikeouts in 110 pitches) proved a worthy opponent but took the loss despite holding the Huskers to 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.
An Angelo Altavilla bunt hit and Luke Roskam double in the fourth set up a pair of NU true freshmen to add some insurance. Jaxon Hallmark sent a sacrifice fly to center, and Gunner Hellstrom — the designated hitter in his first career start — collected his first collegiate hit and RBI with a roller through the left side of the infield to put the Huskers ahead 3-0.
Jesse Wilkening capped the scoring with a driving home run into the right-field bullpen to lead off the eighth inning. It was Wilkening’s third home run this season.
After Thursday’s game lasted nearly four hours, the sequel played out in 2½ on a sunny afternoon. A Cal Poly runner reached second base just three times
“That’s what your Friday guy does,” Erstad said. “We needed that depth, for him to go out there and do that. He was trying to find some kind of breaking ball early, he just didn’t have much command of that. But like he’s done a couple times this year, just kind of doesn’t panic, keeps working his way through and finds his way through the game.”
Cal Poly (6-8)………….000 000 000—0 7 1
At Nebraska (7-6)……001 200 01x—4 9 0
W: Alvarado (1-1). L: Shelton (1-2). 2B: CP, Barrick, NU, Roskam. HR: NU, Wilkening.