EAST LANSING, Mich. — A legendary game capped a historic weekend for Nebraska as it outlasted Michigan State 9-6 in 12 innings Sunday.
In one of the wildest outings for the Huskers in a decade of Big Ten baseball, Nebraska overcame a 17-strikeout performance by MSU reliever Sam Benschoter and avoided a Sparty walk-off in the 11th inning when Jaxon Hallmark’s one-hop throw from center field cut down a runner at home plate. Freshman Max Anderson put NU ahead for good and collected his fourth RBI of the day with a single past a drawn-in infield in the 12th.
The victory marks the first time in school history that Nebraska (20-7) has claimed its first seven conference series to begin a season. It also extends its first-place lead atop the Big Ten standings to 1½ games over both Michigan and Indiana by winning for the 15th time in 18 tries.
“It was an unbelievably crazy game,” NU coach Will Bolt said during his postgame radio interview. “I haven’t been a part of too many games like that. Hey, at the end of the day, it’s all about just finding a way to get it done.”
Emotional whiplash defined Sunday’s rubber match. The Huskers led 6-0 in the second inning, only to give it all back by the bottom of the third. A pitchers’ duel broke out from there, with shutdown frames and blown opportunities filling up the scoreboard until Nebraska finally broke through to win its longest game by innings since a 15-inning affair against Texas in 2015.
Spencer Schwellenbach earned the victory with a four-inning, 65-pitch relief appearance – by far his heaviest workload since the two-way standout began pitching this spring. That followed three spotless innings from Koty Frank, whose eighth inning was highlighted by leftfielder Cam Chick laying out for a ball in the gap in left-center that likely saved a run and maybe the game.
NU’s bullpen extends its scoreless streak to 22 ⅔ stanzas overall heading into next week’s home series against Rutgers.
But the Sunday star was Benschoter, a senior right-hander who began the day for Michigan State (12-17) with a 9.10 earned-run average. He arrived in the third inning and retired 16 of his first 17 batters, striking out 11 in the process. The reliever escaped jams from there, dancing around a Griffin Everitt double in the eighth, a Joe Acker leadoff single in the ninth, an Anderson leadoff triple in the 11th and an Efry Cervantes leadoff walk in the 11th.
Nebraska helped, continuing a troubling weekend trend of failing to execute even one sacrifice bunt on double-digit attempts.
“We weren’t very sharp at all,” Bolt said. “But we regrouped, we found a way and we made the plays when we needed to make them. You win series, you’ve got a chance.”
Schwellenbach drew a walk to open the 12th, then stole second and went to third on a throwing error. Anderson later drove him in to break the 6-6 tie and Cervantes ended a 0-for-32 skid with a two-run single with the bases loaded.
Benschoter’s final line included 9 ⅓ innings on 127 pitches while allowing five hits and four walks along with the 17 punchouts (the most by a Spartans pitcher since future MLB star Mark Mulder in 1998).
Nebraska knocked out Michigan State starter Wyatt Rush after just ⅔ of an inning, going ahead 3-0 after the first on a Max Anderson run-scoring groundout, a Luke Roskam RBI single and Brice Matthews bases-loaded walk. The visitors added three more in the second on a Cam Chick RBI double and two-run Anderson single. MSU pitching had walked five and hit a batter before the end of the frame.
The hosts got to NU starter Shay Schanaman with a trio of runs in the second and third. The right-hander issued four walks — he had given out just two in his previous four starts combined over 22 innings — and MSU’s Adam Proctor and Reese Trahey capitalized with RBI hits in the second. Two fielding errors in the third allowed three more Spartans to cross home. Schanaman lasted five innings overall.
The Nebraska defense made up for early mistakes later as the offense continued to struggle. Chick’s diving grab and Hallmark’s play at the plate were the highlights, but NU also turned a double play behind Schwellenbach in the bottom of the ninth and Mojo Hagge ended the game with a lunging catch of his own.
“It was good to see,” Bolt said. “It was good to see us finish that thing off.”
Nebraska has won seven straight conference series for the first time since taking 12 in a row between the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The 2003 club took eight consecutive league series en route to a Big 12 title.