Behind two hits and three RBI’s each from Pat Kelly and Josh Scheffert the Nebraska baseball team (10-6, 0-0 Big Ten) earned a 2-2 series split with a 9-5 win over the No. 18 California Golden Bears on Monday afternoon at Hawks Field. After being shut out by the Bears on Sunday, the Huskers broke through with eight runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, capped by a three-run home run by Scheffert in his second at-bat of the inning.
Hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, Kelly went 2-for-4 at the dish, including a triple with the bases loaded in the fifth. Michael Pritchard followed Kelly in the lineup and had two hits of his own, including a single that drove in Kelly following his fifth-inning triple. Overall, the Huskers’ first two hitters went 4-for-7 on the afternoon with four RBI’s and three runs.
After leading the Huskers in wins a year ago with an 8-3 record, junior Tyler Niederklein made his first start of the season on Monday. The righty went 5.1 innings and gave up four runs on seven hits, while also striking out four, to earn the win and move to 1-1 on the season. Luke Bublitz, Brandon Pierce and Tyler King combined to throw the final 3.2 innings and gave up just one run on three hits, with Bublitz totaling three strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work.
For the fourth time in the series the Bears took the first lead of the game with two runs in the top of the fifth off a two-run home run from second baseman Tony Renda, the reigning Pac-12 Player-of-the-Year. With just one hit over the first four innings, the Huskers answered quickly with eight runs off four hits and a costly error by the Bears in the bottom of the frame.
Scheffert led off the fifth with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sam Stucky. Cal starter Michael Theofanopoulos then walked Austin Darby and hit Kale Kiser to load the bases for Bryan Peters. Kiser’s hit-by-pitch was the 36th of his career, which moved him into a tie with Jake Mort for sixth on the NU career charts. With one down and the bases load, Peters worked a walk to score Scheffert and leave the bases loaded for Kelly. After starting the game 0-for-2, Kelly came through with the biggest hit of Husker career with a triple into the right field gap on a 1-2 count. Pritchard kept the runs coming with a single to score Kelly, giving NU a 5-2 lead. Chad Christensen was then retired and the Bears were on pace to get out of the inning on a groundball off the bat of Kash Kalkowski, but shortstop Mike Reuvenkamp committed his second error of the season to extend the inning. Scheffert made the Bears pay on the very next pitch with a three-run shot into the left field berm for this first homer of the season.
The Bears came back with three runs in the top of the sixth and were in position to add even more, but killed their own rally with poor base running. With the bases loaded and one out, No. 2 hitter Darrel Matthews struck out and the ball got away from Stucky behind the plate. By rule, Matthews was out and unable to advance on the dropped third strike with first base occupied, but when he took off down the first baseline, Reuvenkamp tried to score from third and was tagged out at home by Bublitz to an end to the Bears’ rally. Cal got nothing going the rest of the game, as they went hitless over the final three innings.
Nebraska added its ninth run of the game in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Kalkowski. Kelly led off the inning with a single into left and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Pritchard. Following an intentional walk to Christensen, Kalkowski came through with his third RBI of the four-game series.
The Huskers will play their fifth game in five days tomorrow when the South Dakota State Jackrabbits visit Hawks Field. Scheduled for a 1:35 p.m. first pitch, senior Dexter Spitsnogle will take the mound for the Huskers, while SDSU’s starter is yet to be announced.