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April 10, 2012

Keller tames Creighton bats, NU wins 5-3

Coach Darin Erstad tried to approach starting pitcher Jon Keller before the eighth inning of Nebraska's matchup with Creighton. His pitch count was getting high, but the sophomore waved him off and went on to pitch a scoreless inning.

With Keller over 100 pitches, Erstad came up to Keller again prior to the ninth inning. He knew Keller wanted the complete game, which would have been NU's first since 2010. But he wanted to see if the starter needed to come out.

"No way," Keller said.

"You're on a short leash," the coach responded.

Keller walked the leadoff hitter in the final frame, ending his day. The sophomore, pulled from the weekend rotation just a week ago, left to a standing ovation and the Huskers went on to win 5-3.

"I would've liked to see a complete game, but there are two ways that can go when you take him out of the weekend rotation," Erstad said. "He could pout and go through the motions, but he went the complete opposite direction. His tempo was great. I thought he pounded the strike zone for the most part and it was fun to watch him pitch tonight."

In his previous starts against Illinois and Northwestern, Keller had given up 11 runs - although only five were earned - and eight walks in 7.2 innings. With Brandon Pierce pitching well out of the bullpen, Erstad removed Keller from the weekend rotation.

But the sophomore earned the midweek start against the in-state rival Bluejays and made the most of it. He pitched a career-high eight innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run while striking out a season-high six.

"It lights a fire under you, kind of," Keller said of losing his spot. "I bounced back after my last few starts, which were pretty rough for me."

Moved to the bullpen, Keller worked with pitching coach Ted Silva this past weekend on lowering his arm slot, allowing him to improve his command. Keller walked four hitters Tuesday, but three of those came in the eighth inning or later as he tired.

The offense, though far from dominant, backed him up. The Huskers didn't have an extra-base hit, but made do with nine singles and took advantage of Creighton's three errors.

"When you face a team that can really pitch - and Creighton can really pitch - that's how you're going to manufacture runs," Erstad said. "We didn't hit the ball hard at all tonight, but we put it in play and put pressure on them.

"I don't think I've seen that many doinkers and choppers in one game in my life. But at the end of the day, you've got to be able to make plays. You run the bases hard and have the opportunity to score some runs."

The win improved the Huskers to 23-12 on the season. Nebraska will be in action next this weekend with a three-game series at Ohio State.

Around the horn

***The Huskers didn't walk in the game, the first time this year they went without a free pass.

***The Huskers now hold a 7-4 record against Creighton at Hawks Field, dating back to the first matchup between the two there in 2002.

***There are 19 players from Nebraska combined on the two teams' rosters, 12 of which play for the Huskers.

***New Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles threw out the game's first pitch.

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