Nebraska falls to No. 2 Oregon State in Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge opener

SURPRISE, Ariz. — No. 2 Oregon State tagged Nebraska’s “Johnny Wholestaff” for at least one hit in every inning and ace Luke Heimlich spun 6-1/3 innings of two-hit baseball in the Beavers’ 9-1 victory to kick off the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge on Thursday afternoon.

OSU pounded out 17 hits — the Huskers allowed as many as 16 on two occasions last year — against six NU pitchers on what was a scheduled all-bullpen approach. Returning first-team All-American Nick Madrigal homered in the third inning and Oregon State (5-0) also turned a pair of Husker errors into two unearned runs as everyone in its lineup earned at least one base knock.

Heimlich, a senior lefty, was in firm control for the vast majority of his 6-1/3 innings and 101 pitches. The Huskers put runners on second and third base in the second frame when Jesse Wilkening walked and Jeff Athey reached on a two-base outfield drop, but the southpaw responded with two of his eight strikeouts to preserve the shutout. He retired nine straight from the second into the fifth inning.

Nebraska scored its lone run in the seventh. Wilkening singled off Heimlich with one out, and true freshman Jaxon Hallmark later chased him in with an RBI single up the middle. The OSU bullpen quieted the rally with a pair of punchouts.

The Huskers (3-2) return to action Friday at 6 p.m. against Utah before facing the Beavers again Saturday at 5 p.m.

OSU plated an unearned run off starter Matt Waldron in the first on three consecutive singles after a dropped foul ball in the outfield. Madrigal homered off true freshman Keegan Watson in his collegiate debut in the third, and the Beavers added three more in the fourth on a sacrifice fly and two RBI singles.

Max Schreiber — another NU true freshman making his mound debut — pitched a clean fifth before the Beavers got to him twice in the sixth on a run-scoring wild pitch and Madrigal RBI hit. OSU plated two more on an Adley Rutschman triple in the eighth off freshman Andrew Abrahamowicz.

Heimlich was one of the nation’s best pitchers last year, working a 0.76 ERA with 128 strikeouts in 118-1/3 innings for an OSU team that eventually finished 56-6 and reached the College World Series. Hallmark got the first hit off him Thursday with a fifth-inning single as part of a 2-for-3 day.

Waldron, a junior righty, made his first start of the spring and 18th of his career. He allowed six hits in two frames nearly one year to the day after surrendering 10 hits and seven earned runs to Oregon State in a short start last year. Juniors Byron Hood and Mike Waldron also took the mound along with Watson, Schreiber and Abrahamowicz. Only Mike Waldron (1-2/3 innings, two hits) left unscathed.

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