If Creighton senior Austin Stroschein learned one thing during three appearances against Nebraska last year, it’s that the starting pitcher can’t expect to solely shape the outcome.
Not in a matchup against an aggressive and streaky Nebraska offense.
So Stroschein did his best to avoid the notion that he could carry the Jays to their seventh straight win Tuesday night. He just wanted to throw strikes and see how long he could keep NU off-balance.
The approach worked. The right-hander’s composed demeanor and nondescript methodology resulted in arguably the best outing of his Creighton career, an effort that helped lift CU to a 5-2 victory over the Huskers before 6,288 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“That’s what you try and not do against those guys, is put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Stroschein said. “You try to go out there and be as comfortable as possible. Be confident. Trust your stuff.”
Stroschein pitched a career-high five innings, striking out four hitters while using just 57 pitches to cruise into the sixth. He allowed four total base runners in the first five frames. Only one leadoff man reached on him, and freshman right fielder Mojo Hagge ended up getting caught trying to steal in the fourth inning.
Stroschein did give up back-to-back singles to open the sixth inning and NU scored twice off hits against reliever Ethan DeCaster. But that hardly spoiled Stroschein’s outing.
The goal was always to first get ahead in the count, he said — then use the Huskers’ aggressiveness against them. He varied his pitch-to-pitch tempo. He changed up his sequence, mixing and matching with three pitches that could all be thrown for strikes.
And he never got rattled.
“You have a lot of adrenaline building up — a lot fans show up, and they bring a lot of energy,” he said. “It’s always fun. But I’ve pitched against these guys quite a few times. You’ve just got to go about your work in normal fashion.”
Stroschein had to learn that the hard way against Nebraska last year. He did help lead CU to a win in one of those three games — but he also gave up eight total runs and 11 hits (including five doubles and two home runs) in eight innings of work.
He didn’t pitch two weeks ago in Lincoln, yet he was on hand to watch as his teammates were torched for 10 runs in the second inning of a 14-6 loss.
Stroschein learned, and adjusted.
The Huskers, meanwhile, weren’t able to match his precision.
They couldn’t capitalize in hitter’s counts Tuesday, according to coach Darin Erstad. He wants them to attack opposing pitchers, but he said he saw too many swings that were “out of control, out of hand.” NU’s batters averaged 2.97 pitches per plate appearance.
“We take a lot of pride in showing up for that first pitch and winning pitches from the get-go, and I wasn’t able to get to them (Tuesday),” Erstad said. “That’s on my shoulders. I’ve got to find a way to get to them pretty quickly here.”
The Huskers (21-14-1), who have lost three of their last four games, are set to travel this weekend to play the Big Ten’s first-place team, Minnesota. Erstad said they’ll need to be sharp — much sharper than on Tuesday.
A potential inning-ending double-play ball skipped under the glove of NU third baseman Angelo Altavilla in the third, allowing CU to extend its lead to 3-0. The Huskers got two runs back in the sixth, but they stranded two men on base by grounding out weakly to end that inning.
“Just too many little mistakes,” Erstad said.
Creighton (15-16) wasn’t perfect, either. But in a familiar recent pattern, the Bluejays delivered in the game’s most critical moments.
After NU senior first baseman Ben Miller had driven an 0-1 pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark in the eighth inning — perhaps signaling that the Huskers had one more surge coming — the Jays promptly put the game away.
Senior left fielder Riley Landuyt and freshman designated hitter Parker Upton both knocked in runs with singles to push their lead to 5-2 in the eighth inning. Senior David Gerber tied a program record with his 24th career save by stranding two NU base runners in the ninth.
“Just a good team win overall,” said CU freshman second baseman Isaac Collins, who reached base three times and scored twice. “We made good plays defensively. Had big hits when we needed it. And made some good pitches when we needed it.”