LINCOLN — Boomer Hoosier.
Yes, they were all solo shots. Yet those four home runs Indiana sent out of Haymarket Park on Saturday night proved pivotal in the Hoosiers' 8-6 series-opening victory against Nebraska.
Two round-trippers apiece by designated hitter Kyle Schwarber and second baseman Nick Ramos helped the Hoosiers (35-8, 12-4 Big Ten) — the conference's most prolific home run-hitting team — take sole possession of second place in the Big Ten.
With two games left in the series, the Huskers (20-24, 11-5) can still jump back ahead of Indiana with victories Sunday and Monday.
“We're very confident. We'll be fine,” NU right fielder Chad Christensen said. “We still have a chance to take this series.”
The Huskers were well aware of Indiana's ability hit the long ball. The No. 16 Hoosiers now have 37 home runs in 43 games, including 17 in conference play.
Both Christensen and coach Darin Erstad said bases-empty blasts are the kind NU can withstand — when other aspects of its game are executed correctly.
“Four solo home runs, I can live with that,” Erstad said. “That's OK. Being able to execute in other parts of the game, that's what I'm focusing on.”
The Huskers were executing properly at the start of the game in front of 1,673, building a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Center fielder Rich Sanguinetti led off with a walk, then moved to second on a throwing error by Indiana pitcher Joey DeNato.
Second baseman Pat Kelly ripped a single to right-center that plated Sanguinetti for a 1-0 lead. Kelly came home on a two-out single to left by designated hitter Josh Scheffert.
After both teams stranded a runner in the second, the Hoosiers found their home run groove in the third. Ramos led off by sending a 1-2 pitch from Christian DeLeon into the right-field bullpen.
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Then came the first bomb by Schwarber. Even Erstad, who launched a few prolific blasts as a Husker and a major league all-star, was impressed.
“We got stung by a 900-foot homer and got a little shell-shocked,” Erstad said. “We battled back, but at the end of the day we didn't sustain it the whole game.”
After that game-tying blast, Indiana scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to build a 5-2 lead. One of those runs was Ramos' second home run of the game, this time leading off the fifth.
Meanwhile, Nebraska's struggles against left-handed pitching reappeared. The Huskers had three singles during a four-inning stretch before scoring again in the sixth.
Christensen doubled down the right-field line, moved to third on a groundout to shortstop by Kash Kalkowski and then scored on a wild pitch to cut the Hoosiers' lead to 5-3.
Indiana then scored twice in the eighth to make it 7-3 before a Nebraska rally in the bottom of the inning nearly tied it.
Kelly started things with a single up the middle. Left fielder Michael Pritchard then doubled to left, moving Kelly to third.
Christensen had a two-run single and ended up on third base before the play was over. The senior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who had gone through graduation ceremonies earlier in the day, took second on the throw to home and ended up on third after a throw by Hoosiers catcher Chad Clark went over the second baseman's head.
A single through the left side by Kalkowski scored Christensen to make it 7-6. After that roughing up of reliever Scott Effross — a right-hander — Indiana coach Tracy Smith brought in lefty Ryan Halstead.
Halstead gave up one hit. That was to the first batter he faced, Millard South graduate Blake Headley.
From the third base coaches box, Nebraska assistant Will Bolt waved Kalkowski home from second. But Headley's hit wasn't deep enough, and Kalkowski was out at home for the second out of the inning.
“We wanted to challenge the outfielder and he made a good throw,” Christensen said. “You have to tip your hat to him — it was a good play on his part.”
Erstad said he's optimistic that the Huskers will leave this loss behind them before taking the field Sunday for a 1:05 p.m. game. Omaha Creighton Prep graduate Kyle Kubat will take the mound for NU.
“These guys are trained well,” Erstad said. “Another lefty had his way against us, and we didn't make adjustments. I have to find the right combination to get us some runs.”
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