TEMPE, Ariz. — Nebraska wore down the ace of a Pac-12 team for three runs in the middle innings and five pitchers combined to stifle Washington State in an 8-3 victory Saturday afternoon to start a doubleheader.
The Cornhuskers (2-1) then lost their second game 8-1 to UC Riverside at Tempe Diablo Stadium. NU wraps up the weekend Sunday with a 1 p.m. game against Washington State.
NU chased WSU senior left-hander Cody Anderson after five-plus innings and 86 pitches in the first game. The Big Red managed just a walk the first time through the lineup, but broke through with a two-run fourth on a Jesse Wilkening RBI single and an Alex Henwood sacrifice fly.
After Mojo Hagge reached on a three-base throwing error by Anderson to start the sixth, the Huskers went to work on the Cougars bullpen. Hagge eventually scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Wilkening. In a five-run seventh, Wilkening connected for a two-RBI double, Angelo Altavilla was plunked with the bases loaded and two more Huskers scored on a WSU fielding error.
Wilkening finished 2 for 4 with four RBIs after driving in two runs in the season-opening win over UC Riverside on Friday.
McSteen picked up the win for Nebraska in his first start since April 2016 and eighth of his college career in 40 appearances. The junior lefty — a key bullpen arm last season — hit coach Darin Erstad’s pitch limit of 90 exactly, working around two hits and three walks while tying a career high with four strikeouts.
WSU’s biggest threat came in the fifth when it earned a walk and single with two outs before McSteen got No. 2 hitter Dillon Plew to fly to left. No Cougar advanced past second base until the ninth inning after the outcome was in hand.
Redshirt freshman righty Paul Tillotson — who threw just twice last year for Nebraska before succumbing to shoulder surgery in March — twirled two perfect innings in his season debut.
A sloppy ninth inning saw WSU score three times on a pair of bases-loaded walks and a wild pitch. Junior lefty Mitch Steinhoff made his fourth career appearance and was charged with three runs. Ethan Frazier hit his only batter and Jake Hohensee closed out the game.
In the loss to UC Riverside, Nate Fisher turned in a strong effort in his first college start, but the Highlanders roughed up Nebraska’s bullpen and shut down its hitters. Altavilla recorded NU’s only two hits against Highlander pitching.
Connor Cannon blasted a two-run home run as part of a three-run sixth inning that turned the tide in favor of UCR (2-1).
True freshman Cole Percival was stellar in his college debut that lasted 5 2/3 innings and 107 pitches. Nebraska managed just one hit and struck out eight times against the son of former major-league pitcher and UCR coach Troy Percival. It put runners in scoring position in three of the first five innings against the 6-foot-5 power righty, but didn’t break through until after he departed.
Scott Schreiber and Luke Roskam worked two-out walks to chase Percival in the sixth, and Cannon walked Wilkening and hit Henwood to force in a run and bring the Huskers within 2-1. Freshman Jaxon Hallmark worked a full count before fouling out to right to end the threat.
Fisher sat down the first seven Highlanders he faced before they got to him with a one-out double and RBI single from No. 9 hitter Anthony Lepre in the third inning. They went up 2-0 in the fifth on a leadoff double, bunt and Lepre sacrifice fly. The junior lefty from Yutan — making his first NU start in his 25th career appearance — allowed four hits and struck out a career-high seven while walking none.
But UCR rose up in the sixth against Mike Waldron, a junior from Omaha Westside who hadn’t taken the mound since making three brief relief outings in 2016. A single, RBI double and two-run Cannon home run extended the lead to 5-1.
NU reliever Byron Hood allowed a run in the seventh and true freshman Andrew Abrahamowicz surrendered two more in the eighth by issuing a walk before Ian Nowak took him deep to left.
A half-hour delay occurred to start the top of the seventh when the ballpark lights went out.