Hohensee outduels Shaffer as Cornhuskers take series opener

Last year at this time, Jake Hohensee was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

He missed all of the 2016 season after the surgery, but he’s re-emerged in 2017 as an ace and he pitched like an ace all night against Maryland.

The junior shut down the Terrapin offense to the tune of 8 1/3 one-run innings, giving up just three hits as the Cornhuskers remained undefeated in Big Ten play with a 3-1 victory Friday night at Haymarket Park in Hohensee’s hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Nebraska pitcher gave up a sharp single to Marty Costes in the first inning, extending Costes’ hitting streak to 13 games, and then did not surrender another base knock until a Zach Jancarski single in the ninth. During two separate stretches he retired eight Maryland hitters in a row.

Hohensee wasn’t completely fooling the Terps (19-9, 5-2 Big Ten) in the early innings, as Costes, Pat Hisle, and Will Watson all hit deep fly balls that died at or near the warning track on a day the wind was blowing strongly in.

He eventually settled in, though, and seemed to get stronger as the game went on. He retired the side in the order in the seventh and eighth, striking out four of his career-high eight in the two frames. It was Hohensee’s longest start of the year and the second straight outing in which he’s pitched at least seven innings after he hurled 7 1/3 in a win over Indiana last Friday. He threw a career-high 116 pitches.

By contrast, Terps’ starter Brian Shaffer, who entered with a 1.80 ERA in two Big Ten starts, kept the Cornhuskers off balance for much of the night, but was undone by some soft contact and timely hitting.

Nebraska (18-10-1, 3-0-1) drew first blood in the third. Catcher Jesse Wilkening got hit in the shoulder by a Shaffer slider to lead off the inning and later scored when Angelo Altavilla hit a sacrifice fly to left.

The Cornhuskers then added some insurance in the fourth. With one out, first baseman Ben Miller blooped a single to right field. Luis Alvarado followed with a perfect bunt that left Shaffer with no play and put two on. Later in the inning, Wilkening came up with two out. The sophomore lined one down the right field line into the corner. Both runs came across to score in what turned out to be the game’s impact blow.

Wilkening, hitting in the No. 8 slot in the Cornhuskers’ order, was the hitting star for Nebraska, going 1-for-2 with two knocked in, a hit by pitch, and a run scored. The RBIs were his 10th and 11th of the season. He’s hitting .274 on the season, but .333 with runners in scoring position.

Shaffer turned in a typically solid start, going eight innings and giving up three earned runs. He struck out four and walked a pair, scattering eight hits. He got 11 ground ball outs, an illustration of how soft most of the contact was against him. It was the first time Maryland has lost in six Shaffer starts.

The Terrapins mounted their only rally against Hohensee in the ninth. Jancarski led off with a single and Costes, who leads the team with a .363 average, followed with a ringing double off the left field wall. That was the end of Hohensee’s day, ceding the ball to Alvarado.

Brandon Gum then lined a single to center to bring home Maryland’s only run, but Will Watson struck out and Nick Cieri lined out to end the game. It was the fifth save of the season for Alvarado.

Miller, Alvarado, and Schleppenbach each had two hits for the Cornhuskers, with Alvarado and Miller crossing the plate.