Angelo Altavilla indulged in a little smack talk early. Then he backed it up with perhaps his best game of the spring against an in-state rival.
The Nebraska senior vowed he would “flush” a slow start that had snowballed into a 1-for-24 slump. The first step was Tuesday night as he reached base five times against Creighton, made the defensive play of the game in the eighth inning and sparked an early heated exchange between the dugouts on the heels of a questionable interference call.
The game went the way of the Huskers, who beat the Bluejays 6-3 in CU’s first game this season at TD Ameritrade Park. In a contest of teams with top-42 RPIs that lasted 14 pitchers and nearly 3½ hours, NU won its sixth straight game thanks to a relentless offense and young pitching.
“It’s Creighton,” Altavilla said. “You kind of have to just come ready to play every time you play them.”
The shortstop’s RBI double in the second inning tied the score 1-1 before he later scored on a Jays fielding error. But the two-run rally ended there as Jaxon Hallmark grounded into a double play completed by an interference call on Cam Chick sliding into second base. Umpires upheld the call on video review as Altavilla held out his arms in a demonstrative objection.
Still, NU’s first five batters combined to go 9 for 21 while Joe Acker, Aaron Palensky and Gunner Hellstrom joined Altavilla with two-hit efforts. A Mojo Hagge RBI groundout and scoring singles by Hellstrom and Keegan Watson highlighted a three-run third.
Young Nebraska arms made sure the offense was enough. Freshman starter Kyle Perry from Millard South logged 3⅔ innings of one-run ball, settling in to retire 11 of 14 after Isaac Collins and Will Robertson led off the first with consecutive doubles. Freshmen followed: first Shay Schanaman (four strikeouts in a career-long 1⅓ frames), then Bo Blessie (scoreless sixth in his college debut). Sophomore Max Schreiber fired a clean seventh in his first action in more than a month.
“As the season goes on, you expect them to grow and get a little bit better, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “… I’m all about throwing strikes and stuff. And Kyle was able to keep his stuff.”
Said Schanaman, a Grand Island grad: “We get out there and we sometimes freak out and we don’t remember that we’re here for a reason. Just gotta trust your stuff.”
Creighton (11-6) swept the three-game series against NU last year for the first time. But the Jays didn’t play Tuesday like a team that ranks among the nation’s best in fielding percentage, steals and offense. Two errors led to an unearned run, and they finished 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position as their four-game win streak ended.
“Some of our young pitchers got a little baptism tonight on what really Division I baseball is all about with a little intensity involved,” CU coach Ed Servais said. “You can play the Marylands and Little Rocks of the world. It’s just a different game when you play at TD Ameritrade against Nebraska.”
Colby Gomes added a sacrifice fly to put NU up 6-1 in the eighth, but CU center fielder Will Hanafan tracked down a deep fly in the gap with the bases loaded.
Creighton produced a run in the eighth on a Parker Upton RBI double, but Altavilla quashed a bigger rally when he caught a liner on a dive and doubled off a runner at second. The Jays brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth following a Jack Strunc RBI before NU reliever Robbie Palkert struck out Upton.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten play for a series at Minnesota beginning Friday. The Jays return to TD Ameritrade Park to play Illinois State in a series that begins the same day. The intrastate rivals next meet April 9 at Haymarket Park in Lincoln.