Behind a first inning blitz and a standout performance on the mound by Jake Meyers, Nebraska rolled past Penn State Saturday afternoon, 21-3, to claim its first Big Ten championship.
Nebraska jumped on the Nittany Lions for seven runs in the first and scored three more, tacking on two more crooked numbers on the scoreboard with a two-run fifth and five-run sixth, before an eighth-inning grand glam by Jake Schleppenbach put the exclamation point on the Husker victory. While the Huskers racked up 18 hits, led by Mojo Hagge and Ben Miller each picking up four hits in three-RBI afternoons, Meyers held Penn State to one hit on the afternoon, tossing six innings of scoreless baseball en route to setting a career-high for strikeouts with seven.
Since joining the Big Ten Conference in July 2011, Nebraska has finished in second place in baseball three times, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Breaking through this season with a 16-7-1 showing in Big Ten play, Nebraska claimed its first conference championship since winning the Big XII in 2005. In taking two of three games from Penn State, Nebraska won seven of eight conference series, only falling in a weekend set to Iowa, April 14-17.
The Huskers stellar play in conference action came after a rocky start to the season. Coming off of a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, Nebraska opened the season 2-6. But two of those losses were to the country’s #1 team, Oregon State, with another against a reigning College World Series participant in Oklahoma State, and one to Utah, the defending Pac-12 champions. The tough start against stout competition has paid dividends as the regular season comes to an end. Since the 2-6 start, Nebraska has won 32 of 45 games, finishing the regular season with a 34-18-1 mark.
The Big Ten championship is the first conference title head coach Darin Erstad has won as a collegiate head coach. Taking over the reigns of the program he once starred at, Erstad has compiled an 88-54-1 mark in Big Ten play, posting a winning conference season in every year except 2015.
Nebraska will now enter next week’s Big Ten Tournament as the top seed, looking to continue its seasons of first with a first Big Ten Tournament title. The Huskers have twice finished runners-up in the conference tournament, in 2013 and 2014, both times to Indiana.