WICHITA, Kan. — Wichita State flashed its formidable power during a three-pitch span in the middle of the third inning Saturday. Nebraska hitters, meanwhile, continue to be 0-for-the-weekend with runners in scoring position.
The result was a 6-3 Shockers victory at windblown Eck Stadium that leaves the reeling Huskers wondering where they go from here.
WSU improved to 8-0 by displaying qualities Nebraska has long coveted. Three home runs, including back-to-back jacks by preseason All-Americans Greyson Jenista and Omaha Roncalli grad Alec Bohm in the third. Steady pitching — freshman Liam Eddy allowed just one run in six efficient innings. Strong plays in the field, including a charging infield pick by Bohm at third base that quieted an NU rally in the fourth and a sparkling 6-4-3 double play in the eighth.
The Huskers (5-5) found little of that rhythm Saturday.
Hitters were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position (0 for 16 including Friday) and showed few signs of life before Jeff Athey broke an 0-for-14 start to his spring with a two-run, wind-aided homer in the ninth. On the mound, left-hander Nate Fisher — getting the first crack at starting in place of the injured Jake McSteen (arm) — was largely ineffective. The junior Yutan grad lasted just 2 1/3 innings and 42 pitches, giving up eight hits and five runs, including the pair of homers.
“They’re a very good, very physical team and when the wind’s blowing out, you’re going to have to win with height (in the strike zone),” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “(Fisher) left a couple balls up and they crushed them.”
On a day starved for positives, Nebraska can point to right-handed junior relievers Matt Waldron (2 2/3 innings, three hits, one run) and Zack Engelken (three scoreless, two-hit frames) for limiting the damage as the 2½-hour game played out.
But it wasn’t enough to keep the Huskers from dropping the series ahead of Sunday’s 2 p.m. finale. WSU entered Saturday ranked 46th nationally in scoring (7.5 runs per game) and tied for 11th in homers per contest (it now has 12 in eight games).
One day after launching a pair of grand slams in Friday’s 9-1 win, WSU went ahead Saturday when a single and double set up Jenista for his three-run shot over the wall in right field. Bohm followed with his second homer in as many days onto the street past left field. The hosts made it 6-1 when leadoff man Luke Ritter swatted his first bomb of the spring on a liner to left-center off Waldron.
Like Friday, NU’s early score came on an RBI groundout. Scott Schreiber’s roller to first plated Mojo Hagge after the sophomore tripled to start the fourth inning and cut the deficit to 5-1.
Eddy, a 6-foot-4, 170-pounder, scattered six hits — five singles and the triple — over six innings and 83 pitches. With the wind howling out to left, he stranded two runners in the fourth by getting Athey to ground out. Nebraska’s best threat came in the sixth when Schreiber singled and Jesse Wilkening walked, but the righty responded by coaxing a flyout and two strikeouts.
“Guys are trying so darn hard,” Erstad said. “They want to get off to good starts and they’re muscling up on swings. Pull-side ground balls and flares the other way are just no-nos in hitting, and I think eight of our first 10 batters did that. And as the game went on we did a better job of getting the leadoff guy on base and giving ourself some opportunities.
“But right now it’s a matter of we’ve got to stay positive and keep trying to put good swings on the ball, put the work in and keep going.”
Senior Zac Repinski, who transferred from Des Moines Area Community College last year, started his first game at second base after Alex Henwood (3 for 27) had manned the position in the first nine games. He was 2 for 4 and has been a rare offensive highlight for NU with a 4-for-7 weekend.
“I think you just try to stay confident within your abilities and hope that you can pull through for your team,” Repinski said. “For me, it’s just staying confident and know that my team is going to have my back no matter what.”
Nebraska’s troubling trend of slow starts also continued. It has netted just three total runs in the first three innings of games this season — a span of 30 frames. Among those struggling to get going are No. 2 hitter Hagge (7 for 35, .200 average), leadoff man Angelo Altavilla (6 for 37, .162) and Ben Klenke (4 for 21, .190), along with Henwood (.111) and Athey (.067).
Said Repinski: “It’s contagious if it goes bad, but it’s all about staying in your mental game and making sure that you as an individual can get something going for the team.”
Nebraska (5-5)………..000 100 002—3 10 0
Wichita State (8-0)……005 100 00x—6 13 0
W: Eddy (3-0). L: Fisher (0-2). 2B: WSU, Boyer. 3B: NU, Hagge. HR: NU, Athey; WSU, Jenista, Bohm, Ritter.