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March 30, 2013The bottom of the seventh inning has been kind to Nebraska this weekend. The Huskers used a four-run rally in the seventh frame Friday night to help send the game to extras, where it eventually won.
Saturday's game followed a similar storyline as the Huskers entered the seventh trailing Northwestern 4-0. But the Huskers scored five runs despite having just two balls leave the infield, then added another three in the eighth to pull away from the Wildcats and win 8-5.
After Nebraska stranded runners in each of the first two innings, Northwestern got on the board first with a run in the fourth. The floodgates opened in the fifth, as the Wildcats chased Ryan Hander and weren't much kinder to Brandon Pierce. Northwestern scored three times to a 4-0 lead, which looked almost insurmountable the way NU's offense was struggling.
But the Huskers' luck swung in the seventh inning. The Huskers scored five times on four hits, two of which didn't leave the infield, and a trio of Wildcat runs to take the lead.
"It's amazing what happens when you put pressure on other teams," Darin Erstad said. "Just put the ball in play. Strikeouts get you nowhere. We had some opportunities in a couple of innings and just couldn't get it done. But if you continue to put pressure and make them make plays over and over and over, you're going to find a way to get it through."
Pierce gave up a run in the top of the eighth, but the NU bats went right back to work in the bottom of the frame. This time the Huskers didn't need any help from Northwestern's defense as they used five hits, including RBI singles by Chad Christensen and Blake Headley, to take the lead for good.
Northwestern loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth, but Aaron Bummer used a strikeout and a ground out to third to escape the jam and earn his first career save.
Though he was pleased to come away with the win, Erstad was not happy about his team's approach early in the game. Friday night's 16-inning marathon didn't get over until around midnight and that late night might have affected the hitters.
"Last night was out of control," junior designated hitter Michael Pritchard said. "We're getting to bed at one or two o'clock, then we come out here and we're slow to start. Thank God we put a lot of pressure on them and scored five in (the seventh) inning then put on a few more. We're just grinding it out. We made a lot of mistakes today and didn't play good baseball at all, but we found a way to win and we haven't been doing that much this season."
But Erstad didn't want to hear any excuses. After all, he pointed out, Northwestern played 16 innings last night as well.
"Look, if they don't make a few mistakes, we were pretty much getting crushed today," Erstad said. "I didn't like our intensity or our execution early on. I thought we were flat. We just can't play like that. We were down 4-0 and had the opportunity to get shut out. To our credit, we came back and made them make some plays, but we've got to play for nine innings. I don't care how tired they are. We've got to continue to play nine innings and we didn't do that today. Regardless of what happened the day before, you've got to be ready to roll."
The win earned Nebraska the series victory and improved the Huskers to 4-1 in Big Ten play. But Erstad was emphatic that he won't be satisfied unless the team is able to come up with the sweep Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
"We need every single last win we can get," he said. "It's a mentality. You're going out to win every game. Just winning the series isn't good enough. We're here to sweep series and win every game."
Around the horn
***Erstad said Tyler Niederklein will get the start Sunday, but the team will use a "Johnny AllStaff" approach. He added that both Dylan Vogt and Josh Roeder could be available after pitching several innings each Friday night.
***Second baseman Pat Kelly was hitless in nine at-bats Friday night, but rebounded nicely with four hits and a pair of runs scored Saturday.
***Nebraska has given up at least 10 hits in each of its last eight games. Prior to that streak, the Huskers had gone 13 straight games without giving up double digit hits.
***It was the ninth straight game in which Nebraska didn't give up a home run. The Huskers have surrendered just four long balls this year.
***Christensen extended his hitting streak to 14 games. The senior has also reached base safely in 18 straight.
***The attendance was 4,003.