LINCOLN — The slow starts happen to Reece Eddins from time to time. A lack of feel for his pitches, which leads to erratic command.
Nebraska’s senior starter was in the thick of a quagmire early Sunday. With a top-10 Arizona State offense pounding pitch after pitch, he allowed three baserunners in the first inning and ASU batted around in the second. He could glance over his right shoulder and see action in his bullpen.
“It wasn’t looking the best,” the right-hander said.
Then Eddins found his groove in time for the Huskers to recover the game and — perhaps — a chance at the postseason.
Eddins tossed his fourth quality start in five tries and three home runs powered a Nebraska offense in an 8-5 series-clinching victory at Haymarket Park. Jaxon Hallmark’s three-run shot in the fifth inning broke an early tie as the Huskers earned another major boost to their on-the-bubble NCAA regional hopes.
“We’re in playoff baseball,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “There’s no room for error at all.”
The Huskers (26-19) wrap their regular season hosting league-leading Michigan beginning Thursday. NU is assured of a Big Ten tournament spot and is mathematically alive for a league title (2 1⁄2 games back) as it enters the Michigan series tied for third in the standings. Second-place Indiana (1 1⁄2 back) hosts Rutgers.
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But Nebraska wouldn’t have much momentum if not for Eddins’ bounce back. The native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, faced 13 batters on 52 pitches in the first two innings, then 13 on 37 in the next four scoreless innings.
Arizona State (35-14) ran into a pair of first-inning outs at second base as catcher Luke Roskam gunned down the runners trying to steal — “He’s my best friend now,” Eddins grinned. But while the pitcher struggled to command his breaking pitches in the second, Lyle Lin hit one of his two homers in the game on a wind-aided shot to right field. A Drew Swift RBI single and a bases-loaded walk to top MLB prospect Hunter Bishop put the Sun Devils ahead 3-1.
“They could have easily put us away right there,” Erstad said.
Instead, Eddins coaxed a groundout to strand the bases loaded. That began a run of retiring eight straight.
The starter faced one hitter over the minimum in his final four innings thanks in part to a couple ground-ball double plays. He allowed six hits and five walks while striking out three on 89 pitches.
“Their offense is amazing,” Eddins said. “This win is huge, especially end of the year.”
Nebraska entered the weekend ranked 237th of 297 Division I teams with 21 home runs, but pounded three in the finale to help score its most runs in more than three weeks. Cam Chick smashed his third to right-center in the first inning and Alex Henwood tied the game 3-3 with a two-run shot to right in the second.
The Huskers had stranded seven through four innings when Hallmark landed the decisive blow in the fifth. Entering the at-bat in a 5-for-46 (.109) slump, the sophomore No. 9 hitter hammered a 2-1 pitch onto the berm in left-center for a three-run blast. Following a run-scoring wild pitch, NU led 7-3.
“Down the stretch you have to have players make plays and do really cool things if you want to be good,” Erstad said. “Jaxon works as hard as anybody and competes and made a great play.”
Henwood finished a triple shy of the school’s first cycle since Steve Edlefsen in 2006. He ended 3 for 4 — his only out was a strikeout after missing a potential three-run homer by about 5 feet right of the right-field foul pole in the third.
ASU elected to intentionally walk the senior second baseman for the first time in his college career in the eighth.
“This is a testament to what this team can do,” Henwood said. “A lot of fighters on it.”
Arizona State recovered two runs against reliever Mike Waldron on solo homers by Trevor Hauver and Lin in the seventh and eighth, respectively. After an Angelo Altavilla RBI double in the bottom of the eighth, Shay Schanaman notched a four-out save. The freshman got sophomore star Spencer Torkelson (19 homers, .353 average) to fly out to center to end it and set off a celebration in front of the crowd of 5,325.
“This late in the year, there’s really no feeling like it,” Henwood said. “We just gotta keep going.”