Husker baseball notes: Missing teeth may not keep Alex Henwood out of the regionals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Darin Erstad picked his moment, then lobbed a joke to Alex Henwood.

What, you can stay in the game with a separated shoulder but not with some missing teeth?

Henwood, the senior second baseman, left Friday's NCAA regional game in the bottom of the first inning when he was struck in the face by a ball. While covering first base on a bunt play, he lost track of the throw when the runner's helmet fell across his sight line.

Erstad, Nebraska's coach, said Henwood was taken to a dentist and had one tooth reconstructed. Another was lost and left a "big, gaping hole."

Henwood stayed in during last Saturday's Big Ten tournament semifinal after separating his shoulder and popping it back in.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to try and play (Saturday)," Erstad said. "I think they said he might be able to play."

The injury isn't unlike what happened to senior infielder Angelo Altavilla late last season, when a high foul popup blew back into play and struck him in the mouth.

"I don't know if (his) was as bad as mine," Altavilla said. "But yeah, he was still in a horrible situation. He's a fighter and he's not going to want to go home or lay over."

The injury prompted outfielder Mojo Hagge to enter the game in left as Jaxon Hallmark filled in at second. The junior who usually sits against lefties earned a bunt single and walk.

"It was a little bit sooner than I expected for this game," Hagge said. "But as soon as (Erstad) told to grab my glove and go out to left field, I was ready to go and just go out there and compete."

Waldron for Saturday

Erstad mulled the decision during the seven-hour bus ride to Oklahoma City. Ultimately, he felt starting Nate Fisher was the way to go.

Sure, the senior lefty had been fighting an illness — "I don't know, the sniffles or something," Erstad deadpanned — but his 2.88 ERA was still the best among Husker starters. The Yutan native was rested and able to handle the moment.

"All those things kind of played into it," Erstad said. "It just made sense."

And while UConn pelted Fisher for a career-worst 13 hits, three double plays helped him limit the damage to five earned runs in a game Nebraska still won.

That leaves regular Friday ace Matt Waldron to go Saturday. The Omaha Westside grad threw 121 pitches last Thursday, then 59 more in Sunday's Big Ten tourney title game.

Said Erstad: "We just felt that Matt would be a better matchup for somebody else."

Future probables

Both top-seeded Oklahoma State and fourth-seeded Harvard threw their top pitchers Friday. What either does Saturday is less obvious.

Harvard's most likely candidate is senior righty Ian Miller, who has made 11 starts this spring. But he also owns a 6.04 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio that is nearly even (39-37). Eight-game starter and sophomore righty Buddy Hayward (4.13 ERA) is another option.

For Oklahoma State, ace Jensen Elliott is the only pitcher on the staff with more than 63 innings pitched this spring. The most likely Saturday choice appears to be sophomore lefty Parker Scott (3-1, 1.45 ERA in 37⅓ and six starts). Redshirt freshman righty Brett Standlee (3-1, 4.14 in 63 and 10 starts) is another possibility.

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