Lincoln – Nebraska parlayed strong starting pitching and timely hitting into a sweep of UC Riverside, knocking off the Highlanders by scores of 10-4 and 5-2, respectively Saturday afternoon.
In the opener, freshman Ben Kline went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and scored twice to pace Nebraska’s 11-hit attack, while left-hander Dan Jennings allowed three earned runs over 5.2 innings for his first win of the year.
The nightcap featured the clutch hitting of Mitch Abeita, who came off the bench to deliver a three-run homer in the sixth. The shot off UC Riverside starter Paul Applebee helped NU overcome a 1-0 deficit and made a winner of Thad Weber, who allowed two runs and fanned six over a career-long 7.0 innings of work.
Abeita’s homer was the first by a Husker pinch-hitter since 2005, a span of 97 at-bats, and helped Nebraska (4-2) collect its first doubleheader sweep in four tries dating back to 2006. It was also Abeita’s first-ever pinch-hit plate appearance.
Game two quickly developed into a pitchers duel between Weber and Applebee (0-2), who pitched well in a losing effort. The Highlanders struck in the top of the first, turning two singles and a fielder’s choice into a run, as a fielder’s choice off the bat of Brett Hambright plated Joey Gonzales with the game’s first run.
That would be the only sustained offense UCR mounted against Weber, who retired 11 in a row following Justin Schultz’s leadoff double in the fourth, before running into a little trouble in the seventh. The senior needed just 83 pitches to get through seven innings, more than doubling the longest outing of his career, and didn’t walk a batter.
Offensively, the Huskers had ample opportunities against Applebee, leaving runners in scoring position three times over the first five frames, but could not get on the scoreboard against the left-hander until the sixth.
"You have to give him Applebee a tremendous amount of credit," Anderson said. "I thought we were going to be able to punch a run or two across, but they were making plays behind him"
With one out and a runner on first, Bryce Nimmo’s single put runners on first and second and brought Abeita off the bench. The senior got a hold of a 1-0 pitch and deposited it over the fence in left center for his third homer of the year, giving the Huskers a 3-1 lead.
"What he’s doing right now is he’s making good contact," Nebraska Coach Mike Anderson said of Abeita, who had one homer in 133 at-bats last season. "He’s in a groove and swinging it well. Obviously Mitch’s at-bat was a good at-bat. The thing I liked the most was how we finished and got some runs across late.
UCR rallied in the seventh, as Carl Uhl reached on a two-out single before scoring moments later on Trevor Hairgrove’s run-scoring double to right center.
The Huskers, who pounded out 12 hits including two each from Belfonte, Opitz, Nimmo and Kline, got the run back in the bottom of the seventh, as Opitz’s RBI double plated Belfonte, who singled and moved to second on a Jake Mort sacrifice.
Nebraska got an insurance run in the eighth, getting an RBI single from Belfonte to plate freshman Dan Johnston, who singled and advanced to second on a Riverside error. UC Riverside threatened in the ninth and got the tying run to the plate, but Mike Nesseth got pinch hitter Ben Price to fly out to left to complete the sweep and collect his first save.
In the opener, the Huskers got major contributions from its freshman in putting together a solid 10-4 victory. Kline put together his first career three-hit game, while he joined fellow newcomers Tyler Rank and David Stewart, as the trio scored six of the Huskers’ 10 runs.
NU also got strong performances from seniors Bryce Nimmo and Jake Opitz. Nimmo went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, while Opitz added a pair of doubles, including a second-inning double to highlight the Huskers’ four run outburst.
Nebraska jumped on UC Riverside starter Matt Larkins for four in the second and two more in the fourth to take an 6-0 lead. The Highlanders scored twice in the fifth and two more in the sixth on Brett Hambright’s two-run homer to pull within 6-4, but a two-base wild pitch and a Nimmo RBI single gave the Huskers all the breathing room they needed.
Jennings, whose first two career starts have been marred by inclement weather, took advantage of the 60 degree temperatures to pitch into the sixth. The left-hander fanned a career-high five hitters and scattered three hits to improve to 1-0 on the year.
The Huskers will go for the four-game sweep Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. as junior right-hander Aaron Pribanic takes the hill. Fans can listen to the game on selected Husker Sports Network stations and on the Internet at Huskers.com.