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March 7, 2014

Huskers blast St. John's 12-4 in home opener

During practice this week, the Huskers emphasized finding the confidence and consistency that has eluded them for much of the young 2014 season. Though it's just one game, Friday's blowout win over St. John's is certainly a good start.

The Huskers scored seven runs in the second inning to run away early, eventually winning 12-4 to improve to 6-5 on the season. Nebraska is now 13-0 in season openers at Hawks Field and has won 36 straight home openers.

"We had a lot of production up and down the lineup," Darin Erstad said. "Once you get on base, you can continue to put pressure on them. We did a couple really nice job of executing on hit and runs. Those type of things are obviously huge for our success going forward."

Junior Kyle Kubat, who has been Nebraska's best starter for much of the past two seasons, made his first start of the year Friday. He missed NU's first two series as he built his arm up and was suspended for last weekend's series, but he didn't show many signs of rust early on Friday. Kubat buzzed through his first four innings, giving up three hits but never getting himself into any real trouble.

Nearing his predetermined pitch count, Kubat ran into some trouble in the fifth. After retiring the leadoff man, Kubat hit a batter, allowed two singles and forced a run in with a walk. Another RBI single ended his day, and freshman Jake Hohensee didn't help matters. The righty walked the first two hitters he faced, including one that scored a run, before a fly out finally ended the inning.

Kubat threw 78 pitches in 4.2 innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits and a walk. The lefty struck out four.

"That's typical Kyle," Erstad said. "He mixed his changeup in there and did a nice job with his fastball. He said he felt great 9in the fifth) and he was moving right along, but it was good to see him get out there and get back in the swing of things."

Kubat missed about half of last season when his arm wasn't ready, but he said he wouldn't necessarily make a connection between this season and last. The junior said he was still feeling strong in the fifth inning and was just happy to be back out there.

"I worked what I had with and tried to compete," Kubat said. "I don't really remember last year. I just take it day by day. We've got a great staff to take care of us."

Fortunately for Nebraska, the Huskers' explosive second inning gave Kubat and company plenty of breathing room. Nebraska sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring seven runs on seven hits, all singles.

And after the Red Storm's scoring explosion in the fifth, NU answered with three runs of its own in the bottom of the frame, then tacked on two more in the eighth. The Huskers were very aggressive on the base paths, executing on a number of hit-and-run plays and converting on scoring opportunities they had often come up short in earlier this year.

Nebraska and St. John's will play again Saturday at 1:05 p.m. before concluding the series Sunday at 12:05 p.m.

Friday standouts

Michael Pritchard: The left fielder is always a threat at the plate, but it was his work on the base paths that was impressive. After an RBI single in the second, Pritchard (who has one steal coming into the game) stole both second and third and eventually came in to score. Pritchard finished with two hits, two runs and an RBI.

Ryan Boldt: The freshman was relegated to pinch hitting duty for the final two games last weekend, but he showed no ill effects of his sore heel Friday. Boldt had three hits, including one swinging bunt where only his blazing speed allowed him to beat the pitcher's throw.

Around the horn

***Every NU starter reached base at least once, and only third baseman Blake Headley and catcher Tanner Lubach failed to collect at least one hit.

***Pritchard extended his on-base streak to 53 games with a first-inning walk. That ties the senior for the longest active streak in the country.

***Miller's second-inning single gave him his first career RBI. Miller also doubled in the seventh for his first career extra-base hit.

***Hohensee walked two batters in just 0.1 innings and has really struggled with his control this year. He has six walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch in 3.1 innings this year, but the coaching staff remains very high on his ability.

"You've got to throw him in the fire and let him go through it," Erstad said. "That's part of the deal. You pick your spots where you can use him and try to build some confidence and success. He's a work in progress, but he's got a very bright future."

***The attendance was 1,366.

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