LINCOLN — Spencer Schwellenbach doesn’t mind admitting he was nervous early on. Unlike most of his teammates, this was his first time playing in anything resembling a college baseball game.
It didn’t take long for the Nebraska freshman to show glimpses of his immense upside.
Schwellenbach, who turned down professional baseball in the summer to join the Huskers, blasted a 400-foot home run to straightaway center field and ended the game with a dazzling double play at third base as the Red team bested the White team 3-0 in Game 1 of the program’s annual intrasquad series Friday night at Haymarket Park.
“This being my first time playing in front of fans with the real deal and pitching and stuff, it was pretty great,” Schwellenbach said.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound freshman and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan was taken in the 34th round of this summer’s Major League Baseball draft, though he fell considerably further than his talent level after telling clubs he wouldn’t sign beyond the 11th round. On Friday, he hammered a 2-0 fastball from fellow freshman Kyle Perry for a solo homer in the fourth inning and also struck out looking and grounded to second.
With two White runners on base and one out in the sixth and final inning, Schwellenbach fielded a Zac Luckey grounder at third, ran to the bag and fired across the diamond for the clincher.
“I’m all about separators,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “These are great opportunities for guys to separate themselves. We have a bunch of new guys and we’re looking for reasons to put guys in the lineup. This is just another opportunity for us.”
A combined 14 newcomers saw the field on the mound or at the plate. Left-handed senior Gareth Stroh — a Purdue transfer and Kearney native who sought a change of scenery and will sit out the 2019 season — retired six of seven batters as the White starter, allowing only a Luke Roskam single.
“I got a whole year to get bigger, faster, stronger,” Stroh said. “I feel like I’ve made good strides and I just want to continue to build off that.”
Pitchers combined to issue five walks and allow six hits, with a total of three errors in the game. The Reds plated their second run in the fifth, when true freshman Blake Peterson singled off Paul Tillotson and stayed in a rundown long enough for Kennet Sorenson to score from first base. The only other run came on a wild pitch in the sixth that brought in sophomore Jaxon Hallmark, who had led off with a double.
Red pitchers combined on a one-hit shutout. Max Schreiber faced the minimum through two innings before single-inning efforts by Ethan Frazier, Tyler Martin, Caleb Feekin and UNC-Greensboro transfer Trey Kissack. Keegan Watson managed the only base hit on a blooper to shallow right-center in the fifth.
Another six-inning contest is set for 11 a.m. Saturday and the finale is Oct. 26 at 5 p.m. Erstad said a variety of potential two-way players who hit Friday will have a chance to pitch Saturday as the team continues to retool coming off a 24-28 campaign.