This was worth the wait for Nebraska.
The morning after thunderstorms wiped out their scheduled nightcap with Iowa, the Huskers proved to be early risers in an 11-1 mercy-rule victory over eight innings at TD Ameritrade Park. Senior starter Nate Fisher and a suddenly-hot offense combined to push fifth-seeded NU past the No. 8 seed and into the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the first time in five years.
The Huskers (30-20) face either sixth-seeded Maryland or second-seeded Michigan Saturday at 9 a.m. A Big Red win there would put it in Sunday’s 1 p.m. title game, while a loss would force an elimination game later Saturday at 5 p.m.
Iowa (31-23) meets fourth-seeded Minnesota in an elimination tilt at 7:30 tonight.
Like Wednesday’s win over the Gophers, Nebraska jumped ahead in the early innings and cruised the rest of the way against five Iowa pitchers. Three RBI hits highlighted a four-run second that built a 4-1 lead. The Huskers batted around again for a four spot in the fifth.
Fisher made it hold up for Nebraska’s seventh win in its last nine games. The left-hander from Yutan lasted 103 pitches and seven strong innings, striking out seven and scattering four hits and three walks. Iowa’s only damage came in the second, when a two-out infield hit started a mini rally that included a walk and Mitchel Boe RBI single.
The Hawkeyes put the leadoff man on the next three innings but didn’t score either time before Fisher retired the final eight men he faced. It was a stark contrast to his regular-season encounter with Iowa in April, when he gave up seven runs (four earned) in 4-2/3 innings.
Nebraska handed Iowa starter Grant Judkins his shortest start of the spring (1-1/3 innings on 55 pitches) by grinding out long plate appearances. Second-inning scoring hits came from Spencer Schwellenbach, Cam Chick and Aaron Palensky. Angelo Altavilla added a liner to left that Iowa’s Chris Whelan caught on a dive for a sacrifice fly.
Chick worked a bases-loaded walk in the third to bump the NU lead to 5-1. Schwellenbach led off the fifth with a solo homer into the left-field bullpen. A Chick sac fly, Alex Henwood bases-loaded walk and Gunner Hellstrom single rounded out the frame.
Nebraska nearly completed a 10-run mercy-rule victory in the seventh. Hellstrom added an RBI single to balloon the advantage to nine before the Huskers grounded out with the bases full. Chick’s sac fly ended the game in walk-off fashion in the eighth.
Iowa had won 12 of the previous 16 games against the Huskers, including a 2-0 win in the second round of the 2017 Big Ten tourney.
Nebraska vs. Maryland / Michigan
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha
Radio: KNCY 1600 AM, 105.5 FM in Nebraska City