The Nebraska baseball team (27-29) extended its season by at least one day on Friday afternoon with a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (32-22) in an elimination game at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Huskers now play tomorrow at 3:35 p.m. and will face the loser of tonight’s game between Ohio State and Indiana. Christian DeLeon is schedule to get the ball on the mound for the Huskers. With a win in the afternoon game, the Huskers would face the winner of tonight’s game tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Sophomore Pat Kelly led the Husker attack on Friday at Target Field with a 2-for-3 day, including his 12th double of the year and the first home run by any player at the tournament. The Red Wing, Minn., native’s three-run blast in the fourth capped a six-run inning for the Husker. The homer was measured at 383 feet at the pitcher-friendly park.
Nebraska got a solid start out of senior Ryan Hander, who was making his first start since April 6. The righty gave up four runs in the top of the fifth, but held the Gophers scoreless through the first four innings on two hits. Hander gave Nebraska 4.2 innings, his longest outing since throwing 6.2 innings at Louisiana Tech onMarch 8.
Luke Bublitz came in and threw 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, posting one the best outings of his career. The junior allowed just one hit, retiring the Gophers in order in the sixth and eighth innings.
Josh Roeder closed the door in the ninth, picking up his sixth save of the season. The sophomore struck out the first two Gophers he faced, before a groundout to Kelly at second base ended the game.
Kash Kalkowski and Michael Pritchard each pounded out a pair of hits and an RBI, while Tanner Lubach and Bryan Peters also added RBIs. Kalkowski’s RBI was his 40th of the season, marking the 36th-straight season that at least one Husker hitter has totaled 40 RBIs on the year.
Minnesota starter Dalton Sawyer, who was making his first start of the season, lasted just 3.2 innings. The freshman was tagged for six runs (all earned) on seven hits.
Hander pitched his way out of a jam in the second after he walked the leadoff hitter and gave up a one-out single that put runners on the corners for the Gophers. Hander responded by striking out Michael Handel and Ryan Abrahamson looking, Hander’s second and third strikeouts of the game.
The Gophers put a pair of runners on base in the third on a single and a walk, but again Hander was able to strand them both. With cleanup-hitter Matt Halloran up, Hander threw three-straight off speed pitches and got the catcher to bounce into a weak 1-3 groundout.
After going down in order in the both the second and third innings, the Husker offense bats broke through with six runs on five hits in the bottom of the fourth. Christensen led off with a single, breaking Sawyer’s streak of seven-straight Huskers retired. With Kalkowski at the plate, Sawyer tried to pick off Christensen and instead threw the ball into foul territory and Christensen cruised to third base. Kalkowski made the error hurt with a RBI single. Josh Scheffert picked up the third straight single of the inning to put runners on the corners with no out. Following a fly out from Blake Headley, Lubach laid down a perfect squeeze that not only scored Kalkowski, but Lubach also reached on the play. Sawyer came back and struck out Austin Darby and was in position to get out of the inning with just two runs scored, but Peters delivered a two-out single for the second straight game that scored Scheffert to put NU up 3-0. Minnesota left Sawyer in for one batter too long, as Kelly belted no-doubter into the left-field seats, putting the Huskers on top 6-0. It was the first home run of the tournament by any player.
The Gophers came back fighting in the top of the fifth, scoring four runs on three hits, including a three-run homer from Halloran. After a leadoff walk came around to score Minnesota’s first run of the game, Hander was in position to end the inning with a pair of runners on base and two down. Halloran worked a full count and on the sixth pitch he saw in the at-bat, the junior lifted his second home run of the season into the right-field seats, cutting the Husker lead to 6-4. Hander stayed in and hit Dan Olinger, forcing Head Coach Darin Erstad to bring in Bublitz. The junior reliever did his job, striking out Mark Tatera to end the Minnesota fifth.
After no player had hit a home run over the first 55 innings of the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, a pair of homers were hit in a 20-minute span on Friday afternoon.
Bublitz gave up a leadoff single in the seventh, but then let his defense work. The NU reliever got Kurt Schlangen to ground into a 6-4-3 double play and then Peters made a stellar play at shortstop. Andy Henkemeyer looked to have a single, but Peters made a diving stop in the hole and delivered a strike to first base for the third out of the inning.
The Husker offense got a run back in the seventh, starting with a leadoff double by Kelly down the left-field line. After a single from Pritchard moved Kelly to third, Christensen picked up his 36th RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly to right field off reliever Billy Soule.
Bublitz and Roeder combined to retire eight straight Minnesota batters, ending the Gophers’ season.
Today’s 3:35 p.m. game will be shown live on the Big Ten Network, while Greg Sharpe and Lane Grindle will have the call on the Husker Sports Network, including for free on Huskers.com.