Alvarado dazzles on the mound to complete Nebraska’s sweep of Nevada
LINCOLN — Luis Alvarado has been learning on the fly during his first spring as a starting pitcher. He aced his test Saturday as Nebraska celebrated its first three-game sweep in nearly a year.
The 6-foot-4 senior from Puerto Rico has a better feel now for breaking pitches and when to throw them. He has built up his arm strength and adjusted his approach to welcome weak contact instead of always trying for a strikeout. Recently, he has adjusted what part of the rubber he throws from.
Everything came together for Alvarado on Saturday afternoon as he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Nebraska’a 12-5 win over Mountain West-leading Nevada to cap the nonconference series at Haymarket Park. Starting a series finale for the first time, the right-hander logged a career-high eight innings while striking out three and walking none in 94 pitches.
“That’s the best velocity he’s had all year, so there’s obviously a little bit of ticked-offness in there,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “I loved it. It’s great. He’s still touching 92 (mph) in the eighth, and that’s what it should be like every time out with that sense of urgency. So that’s what we need the rest of the year.”
Alvarado produced much of the drama in a lopsided game, plunking Nevada batters with two outs in the second and fifth innings before No. 9 hitter Jaylon McLaughlin smacked a clean single to left-center to lead off the sixth. The normal Friday ace allowed two hits in all, the second of which was a solo homer by Joshua Zamora to begin the seventh and cut the Husker lead to 8-1.
Warm temperatures and low winds were welcome conditions for Alvarado, who said he was aware of his no-hit bid — the last individual Husker to accomplish the feat in nine innings was Richard Geier in 1954 — but was more focused on efficiency. He certainly achieved that, facing just three batters over the minimum.
“I hope, including me, we all take and see how we felt this weekend and hopefully we come next weekend against Maryland and we do what we did this weekend,” Alvarado said. “It doesn’t matter what you did, just do it again and see if it works.”
Nebraska (20-22) matched a season-high three-game winning streak with the help of Scott Schreiber’s three-run homer and by grinding out at-bats and pushing Nevada starter Mark Nowaczewski to 68 pitches and a 6-0 deficit after two innings.
Schreiber moved into a tie for fifth in program history in the second inning with his 42nd career home run, passing Erstad on the all-time list with a blast to right on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. He said Erstad took him aside in the dugout after his home run to acknowledge the feat.
That came after Luke Roskam’s RBI double and Gunner Hellstrom’s sacrifice fly in the first and Mojo Hagge’s run-scoring hit in the second. Schreiber added a double off the wall near the “403” sign in left-center in the sixth and a single in the fourth.
“This is big,” Schreiber said of the weekend. “Obviously a good confidence boost. We were able to play all three facets of the game these last three games pretty well. See our potential, see what we can do. Hopefully we can just build off of this and continue to get better each and every day.”
Joe Acker and Hellstrom added RBI singles in the fifth and sixth, respectively. A four-run seventh was highlighted by Wilkening’s sacrifice fly, Hellstrom’s getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Jaxon Hallmark’s two-run homer.
The bottom third of the lineup — filled by a struggling group of shuffled players most of the spring — reached base in eight of its 15 plate appearances, and all scored runs. Freshman shortstop Zac Luckey filled in for the injured Angelo Altavilla (mouth/jaw) by going 2 for 4, while second baseman Alex Henwood and Acker each added a single.
Erstad said Altavilla could be available next weekend for the home series with Maryland if he can find a mask to wear. The junior shortstop was hit in the face with a high foul ball Friday and had surgery until early Saturday morning. He has stitches on his lip and fractured part of his jaw, and “it looks like erector set in his mouth with how much metal’s in there.” He was back in uniform Saturday.
Nevada (21-19) scored four runs in the ninth, all of which were charged to freshman Andrew Abrahamowicz.
Erstad said he saw a more relaxed Husker team this series, adding that it might not be a coincidence that it was during a nonconference series that held relatively little meaning for a squad with a sub-.500 record. The Huskers played error-free until the ninth inning in what was a 12-1 game, and the hitters swung more freely, going 6 for 16 (.375) with runners in scoring position.
“I go back to, you can’t let who you’re playing or the situation affect how you go about your business,” Erstad said. “You go about it whether it’s Tuesday, Sunday, it doesn’t matter. I haven’t been able to get that across to this group and we’ve been really good in our time being here of treating every game exactly the same. But for whatever reason, there’s some level of more stress on them in certain games and I haven’t been able to crack that code yet.”