LINCOLN — Nebraska's Christian DeLeon held a three-run lead, but he was tiring a bit in the eighth inning when two runners reached and one of the most dangerous hitters in college baseball stepped to the plate.
But the pressure didn't cause DeLeon to abandon the simple formula — changing speeds and attacking low in the strike zone — that had been subduing a potentially explosive offense all game.
DeLeon worked the count to 2-2. Then threw a change-up, deceptively dropping it low and inside so it would momentarily resemble the fastball that New Mexico slugger DJ Peterson wanted to crush.
The strategy worked. DeLeon got the strikeout, one of five during eight scoreless innings, ultimately enough to lead Nebraska (2-7) to a 3-0 win at Haymarket Park on Sunday.
“All my pitches stayed down in the zone (Sunday),” DeLeon said. “I think that's what really helped me out.”
The right-hander out of Blinn (Texas) Community College shut down an offense that ranked fifth nationally in batting average (.326) and sixth in runs per game (7.7) last season. Peterson, who crushed a no-doubt, three-run homer Saturday, was a first-team All-American who hit .419 last season, slugged .734 and recorded a .490 on-base percentage. As a team, the Lobos (2-6) were shut out twice last year.
Yet Sunday, the only time a runner reached second base in the first six innings came in the third, when senior shortstop Alex Allbritton avoided an inning-ending double play because he took off before DeLeon's 2-0 pitch. Peterson was 0 for 4, failing to reach base for the first time this year.
Nebraska's infield turned a double play to end the sixth, then used another one to spoil a possible rally an inning later (runners on first and second with no outs). DeLeon's back-to-back strikeouts, including the one of Peterson, left two stranded in the eighth.
“That first inning, from pitch one, (DeLeon) was down in the zone and pounding the zone,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “You could tell he meant business the entire day.”
New Mexico starter Sam Wolff had a similar mentality. The right-hander hurled a mid-90s fastball for six innings, striking out six and allowing four hits.
But the Huskers managed to capitalize on enough of their chances.
Senior center fielder Rich Sanguinetti drew a leadoff walk to begin the game, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third, then scored when Chad Christensen fought off a 1-2 inside fastball and grounded out to second base.
In the sixth, Christensen was down to two strikes again but he guided an 0-2 pitch into the right-field corner, sliding safely into second with a two-out double. Senior third basemen Josh Scheffert got behind in the count against Wolff, too. It was 0-2 when he fouled off four pitches (a couple curveballs off the plate included).
But then came an inside fastball and Scheffert launched it just over the wall in left-center field to put Nebraska up 3-0. The Huskers, who had 47 home runs last year, had gone seven games and 267 at-bats between long balls.
“We were just taking what each other were doing (at the plate) and trying to build off that,” Scheffert said. “I wasn't trying to do anything special in that at-bat. Just trying to put the ball in play.”
NU will host Northern Colorado at 1:35 p.m. Tuesday.
New Mexico (2-6) ....................... 000 000 000—0 8 1
At Nebraska (2-7) ........................ 100 002 00x—3 5 0
W: DeLeon, 1-0. L: Wolff, 1-1. S: Vogt, 2. 2B: NU, Christensen (2), Kelly (3). HR: NU, Scheffert (1).
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