LINCOLN — Colby Gomes may have had a mini panic attack as he watched the ball sail deep toward the left field fence.
The Nebraska closer was protecting a one-run lead. With a man on and one out in the ninth, the worst-case scenario flashed through his mind.
Then Mojo Hagge, who has made many a play in the same space at Haymarket Park over the years, crashed into the fence and caught what would have been an extra-base hit off the wall. One batter later, the Huskers were pouring onto the field celebrating a 2-1 win over Arizona State Saturday that was equal parts emotional release for a slumping club and a résumé boost for a potential postseason bid.
“He saved my life,” Gomes said of Hagge. “That was absolutely terrifying.”
Operating with almost no margin for error, Nebraska held down a top-10 Devils offense with the wind gusting out to left and fresh memories of the four-homer, 21-hit beatdown ASU inflicted Friday night. Starter Nate Fisher allowed just a solo home run in 5 1⁄3 innings and Robbie Palkert followed with 2 2⁄3 scoreless innings. Gomes made NU 24-0 when leading after eight innings this season, finishing the game with a strikeout as a crowd of 5,403 roared.
“That’s an emotional, emotional win,” Palkert said. “Everybody’s grinding their butt off. And to have it come down to that last strike right there, that’s what you could ask for. That was awesome.”
Nebraska (25-19) took its first lead of the series in the third. With a man on second base and two outs, Arizona State elected to intentionally walk Aaron Palensky. Luke Roskam followed with a sinking RBI single that center fielder Hunter Bishop trapped against the grass.
Nebraska made it 2-0 in the fourth when Angelo Altavilla and Alex Henwood singled and Gomes sent a short-hopper under the third baseman’s glove for a run-scoring hit.
But the NU offense went quiet from there. Hagge grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and the Huskers didn’t get another hit until a Gomes single in the seventh. Arizona State right-hander Boyd Vander Kooi lasted seven innings, striking out seven and scattering nine baserunners on 93 pitches.
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The Sun Devils (35-13), meanwhile, couldn’t muster much against Fisher after posting 15 runs Friday. They had just three singles in the first four innings. After a pair of one-out walks in the fifth, Hagge made a diving catch on a liner to center field and Fisher struck out Trevor Hauver (12 homers).
“He’s a dog out there on the mound,” Gomes said of Fisher. “When you got a guy out there competing like he is, it’s hard not to back him up out there.”
ASU’s Spencer Torkelson homered for a second straight game on a mammoth blast past the brick bathroom building in left to start the sixth, slicing the Husker lead to 2-1. After a pair of Sun Devil singles, Palkert came on and escaped with a strikeout and forceout, mixing a sinker and change-up with pinpoint location.
Palkert threw a 1-2-3 seventh and navigated another tightrope eighth. After a leadoff single, he worked around a stolen base and wild pitch with three strikeouts — finishing with six overall, tying his career high. He joked afterward he had added motivation during what was “Bark at the Park” day.
“We love when the dogs come out,” Palkert said. “We did it for the dogs.”
Nebraska, which had lost nine of its last 13 games, faces Arizona State in the rubber match Sunday at 1:05 p.m. with a chance to breathe more life into its fringe postseason case.
Saturday’s win, the Huskers said, might be just the jolt they need to make one more push.
“After (Friday), it’s very easy to shy away from competition — they have very good players — and our guys didn’t do that,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “They came out to fight and got a couple big hits. We knew we had to play really well and pitch well to beat a team like this and we did.”