Senior Josh Scheffert is hoping, as any Lincoln boy would, for a big finish to his NU baseball career, and he had a big hit Sunday that went a long way toward that mission.
Scheffert’s two-out, two-run homer in the sixth inning — the end result of an eight-pitch battle — provided some valuable breathing room for starter Christian DeLeon and the Huskers in a 3-0 victory over New Mexico at Haymarket Park.
It was Scheffert’s first homer of the season and the 16th of his Nebraska career. With Chad Christensen on second after a double, Scheffert smoked a 1-2 pitch from Sam Wolff. The line drive just cleared the fence in left-center.
“I wasn’t really trying to do a whole lot at that point,” said Scheffert. “I just kind of reacted to a low, inside fastball, and luckily it went out of the ballpark.”
Luck? Not in the eyes of Husker head coach Darin Erstad.
“Schef somehow reacted to that thing and hit it out,” Erstad said. “It was just a tremendous at-bat all around.”
And a tremendous feeling for Scheffert in helping NU win its second straight after an 0-7 start.
“You know, it means a lot to me,” said Scheffert, a third baseman from Lincoln Southeast. “I’m just trying to have fun and make the most of my last year here.”
Meanwhile, DeLeon is making the most of his opportunities as a starter. The junior right-hander, who threw six strong innings at Texas a week ago, was on top of his game again Sunday, throwing eight shutout innings against the Lobos (2-6). DeLeon allowed seven hits and struck out five. He walked just two batters.
DeLeon’s ability to keep his pitches down from the first inning on was a key to his success on a chilly day at Haymarket Park.
“When you can throw three pitches for strikes in college baseball and you can pitch backwards and throw off-speed in hitter’s counts and keep the ball down,” Erstad said. “I mean, how many balls were above thigh-high today? Not very many. When you do that and you let your defense work behind you, you’re going to be successful.”
DeLeon's biggest pitch was a change-up that got New Mexico slugger DJ Peterson with two on and two outs in the eighth.
“I just wanted to get my change-up down, something that he’d swing at, looks like a fastball down and in,” DeLeon said. “He likes inside pitches, so I just tried to keep it low and luckily it missed his bat.”
DeLeon had high praise for his defense, which turned double plays in the sixth and seventh innings.
“Those double plays, without those, I’m struggling on the mound later on in the game,” he said. “Defense was huge. I couldn’t ask for better.”
DeLeon had reached his pitch count (105) and was replaced by Dylan Vogt, who got the save with a one-hit ninth.
“He’s still not fully stretched out as a starter, but that’s a pretty good day’s work,” Erstad said. “I would have loved to give him the ball and roll with it, but at the end of the day, we need to build him up the right way.”
The shutout victory was Nebraska’s first at home since March 19, 2011. The Huskers will take their two-game winning streak into a two-game home series with Northern Colorado, with games set for 1:35 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Just for the guys, I’m happy that with the hard work and everything they’ve put into this, they’re getting a few wins,” Erstad said, “because just as losing’s contagious, winning’s very contagious as well.”