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May 25, 2013

Lubach's blast keeps NU's season alive



Nebraska vs. Indiana box score

MINNEAPOLIS - Tanner Lubach picked a pretty good time to get his first hit of the Big Ten Tournament.

Previously 0 for 16, the catcher deposited a fastball from Indiana's Ryan Halstead in the leftfield seats in the 11th inning to give Nebraska (29-29) a 7-6 walk-off victory over the top-seeded Hoosiers (42-14). The two teams will play again Sunday at 12:05 p.m. for the conference championship on the line.

"I was just trying to hit it hard. It just happened I guess," Lubach said. "I've been pressing so much the past couple of days. I told myself, 'There's no pressure right here. You don't have anything to lose.' It all worked out."

Lubach was far from the only hero of the day. After Christian DeLeon shut out Ohio State for eight innings in Nebraska's first game Saturday, Darin Erstad called on Dylan Vogt, the do-everything reliever who had struggled as of late. Making his first start since 2011, Vogt's last three appearances had all resulted in losses. His ERA during that span was 19.31.

The senior was far from perfect, but he gave the pitching-short Huskers exactly what they needed. He lasted seven innings (a full two innings longer than his previous career high) and gave up five runs on a pair of home runs by Indiana. But he kept Nebraska in the game and gave them a chance late.

"In my short time of coaching, that's what I get the most joy out of," Erstad said. "I feel like I'm their dad and I'm so proud of them when they compete in those situations. Tanner Lubach is having a heck of a time squaring a baseball up and getting a hit, but he keeps fighting and fighting. For Dylan to struggle and not get some games saved that he normally does and to come out today and pitch his heart out against probably one of the best offenses in the country… that just does it for me. I feel like a proud dad."

Vogt gave up 10 hits but only walked one while throwing 68 pitches. He didn't wilt after the Hoosiers hit a couple of bombs off of him, including one that reached the second deck.

"You've got to compete down in the zone and let your defense work," Vogt said. "I went into this knowing they were going to hit me. There was no doubt, but I was going to let them hit it and let the defense work. They've been doing it all year. I've seen what our defense is capable of."

Kash Kalkowski kicked off the scoring with a two-run home run in the first inning, but it didn't take Indiana long to respond. Hoosier catcher Kyle Schwarber clubbed his 16th home run of the year to tie the game in the third and first baseman Sam Travis gave IU the lead with a three-run bomb that reached the second deck in the fifth.

But the Huskers wouldn't go away. Kalkowski and third baseman Blake Headley gave the Huskers a pair of runs with RBI hits in the sixth and NU took the lead in the seventh on an RBI single by Kalkowski.

After Vogt walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth, Josh Roeder came on and got out of the inning without any damage. After retiring the first batter in the ninth, the sophomore gave up a double to Dustin DeMuth. Roeder looked like he might escape after inducing a fly out to right, but pinch hitter Ricky Alfonso, in his first at-bat of the tournament, took a 1-2 pitch to right for a double that tied the game.

Neither team scored in the tenth and Luke Bublitz, making his third relief appearance of the tournament, pitched a scoreless 11th frame. That set up Lubach's heroics in the bottom of the inning.

The Huskers looked both happy and exhausted after playing a combined 20 innings Saturday, but the road doesn't get any easier Sunday. Indiana knows that if it hopes to host a regional, it likely needs to win the conference tournament. Meanwhile, the Huskers are likely fighting for their postseason lives.

"I think I speak for just about everybody on the team when I say (winning the conference) would be pretty good," Vogt said. "I really don't have any words for it. We've got to go out and execute tomorrow. It was a long day. There was a point in the second game where I completely forgot that we played a game before that. It just came down to grinding it out. We've been doing it all year."

Saturday standouts

***Tanner Lubach: Already 0 for 4 on the day and admittedly pressing, Lubach took Halstead deep to send Nebraska home with the win.

***Kash Kalkowski: The senior did it all for Nebraska Saturday. He was four for five with four RBIs and a pair of runs scored. His first-inning home run was the highlight, but he also knocked in the go-ahead run in the seventh.

***Luke Bublitz: Just a day after throwing 30 pitches to help NU beat Minnesota Friday, Bublitz pitched a scoreless 11th inning to earn his fourth victory of the season.

Around the horn

***Erstad announced that Kyle Kubat will start Sunday. He said the only pitchers he is sure are unavailable as of right now are Vogt, DeLeon and Ryan Hander.

"We'll do a little analysis in the morning and see where everybody is at," Erstad said. "We may have to get a little creative. We'll make it work."

***The Huskers are now 2-3 in extra-inning games and 8-17 in games decided by two runs or less.

***With the start, Vogt appeared in his 30th game of the season, the first Husker to make that many appearances since Brett Jensen in 2005.

Vogt didn't know he would start the second game until the first game's conclusion. When he arrived at the ballpark, he was told that if he didn't pitch in the first game, he would start the second. He threw a few warm-up tosses in the bullpen during the first game, but never any live pitches.

***Pritchard has reached base at least once in each of Nebraska's last 41 games.



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