Irvine, Calif. - Behind a gutsy ninth inning from sophomore Josh Roeder, the Nebraska baseball team (6-10, 0-0 Big Ten) evened its series with the No. 25 UC Irvine Anteaters (14-5, 0-0 Big West) on Saturday afternoon at Anteater Park with a 4-1 win.
With a 4-0 lead entering the bottom of the ninth, Taylor Sparks led off the inning with a homerun after reliever Zach Hirsch had retired 10 straight Anteaters. Head Coach Darin Erstad turned the ball over to closer Dylan Vogt, who struggled to find the zone and walked the bases load, forcing Erstad to make a second pitching change in the inning and bring in Roeder. The sophomore transfer from Louisberg College got pinch-hitter Jonathan Munoz to pop out for the first out of the inning. With the top of the Irvine order up, Roeder blew away Dominique Taylor with a fastball and closed out the win when he got pinch-hitter Ryan Cooper to fly out to centerfield for the game's final out.
The 1-2-3 performance with the base loaded earned Roeder his first collegiate save at Nebraska, while Hirsch improved to 1-1 on the year with the win.
"It was definitely never racking," Roeder said after the game. "It brought me back to junior college last year, where I was the closer. There were lots of nerves running through me, but I just calmed myself down and went from there."
Starter Ryan Hander gave the Huskers 4.1 shutout innings, limiting the Anteaters to two hits and two walks, while striking out five.
Offensively, Chad Christensen notched his first home run of the season with a leadoff shot in the eight and Kash Kalkowski was the only player for either team with more than one hit, as he ended the day with a 2-for-3 performance. Bryan Peters produced his first multi-RBI game of the season with a two-RBI single in the seventh.
With just one runner in scoring position through the first six innings on four hits, the Husker offense got their pitching staff some support with three runs in the top of the seventh. Josh Scheffert led off with a single and Kalkowski was hit for his team-high seventh time this season to put a pair of runs on with no outs. Austin Darby stepped up just looking to sacrifice both his teammates into scoring position with a bunt, but was able to produce much more as the pressure of the bunt forced Irvine starter Matt Whitehouse to throw the ball into left field when Whitehouse tried to get Scheffert at third, allowing Scheffert to easily score for the game's first run. With no outs and runners still at second and third, Whitehouse retired Tanner Lubach, but couldn't get Peters, as the senior shortstop delivered a two-RBI single. Whitehouse then retired Michael Pritchard and Rich Sanguinetti to end the inning, but not before the Huskers took a 3-0 lead.
Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie gave the ball to reliever Kyle Hooper to start the eighth inning, where Christensen welcomed him with a mammoth solo shot over the leftfield wall on the first pitch he saw from Hooper. The senior's first home run of the season pushed Nebraska's lead to 4-0. Hooper retired the next two Huskers he faced, before Kalkowski blasted a double off the wall in leftfield, forcing Gillespie to turn ball over to Jimmy Litchfield. Darby stepped in and was unable to keep the inning going with a groundout to first.
After both pitchers posted 1-2-3 half innings in the first, the Huskers got the game's first hits with a pair of two-out singles from Kalkowski and Darby in the top of the second, but were unable to plate a run.
Connor Spencer produced Irvine's first hit off Hander with a leadoff single in the bottom of the second. NU's starter responded with back-to-back outs, but then loaded the bases when he hit consecutive batters. With No. 9 hitter Justin Castro up, Hander dug in and got a fly ball to keep the game scoreless.
Nebraska was in a jam in the third when Hander issued a pair of walks, including a free pass to Taylor to lead off the inning. With two down and runners on the corners, Hander again came through, as he struck out Sparks looking with a curve ball to end the inning.
Hander retired his sixth straight Anteater to start the fifth, before Taylor placed a grounder just inside the third-base bag for a one-out double. With a pair of lefties due up for Irvine, Erstad went to Hirsch. The 6-4 lefty retired Irvine's No. 2 and 3 hitters in order to keep the game scoreless through five innings.
The Huskers and Anteaters meet for the rubber match of their three-game series tomorrow at 1 p.m. back at Anteater Ballpark when NU's Brandon Pierce faces Irvine's Andrew Morales . Following a trip to Disneyland on Monday, the Huskers play a pair of games at Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday and Wednesday.