There are moments for every team that define a season, and NU may have experience one Saturday. Nebraska has been desperately searching for momentum after a number of debilitating losses in the first month of the season, and Josh Roeder may have given the Huskers the spark they were looking for.
Nebraska came into the ninth inning with a 4-0 lead over UC Irvine, but a solo home run and three straight walks put Roeder on the mound with a 4-1 advantage and the bases loaded with no outs. The sophomore came through in a big way, inducing a pop out, a swinging strikeout and a fly out to center to keep the No. 25 Anteaters off the board and give NU (6-10) a 4-1 victory.
"It's all about belief and getting over the hump," Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "We've been close in a handful of games on the road and just haven't finished them out. You'd think up 4-0 in the ninth would be the easiest way to do it, but the baseball gods had a little different plan. They're not going to make it that easy on you. When you have something you're fighting as a team, it's going to be challenging. Our guys stuck with it and Roeder picked up Vogt. It's something that once you do it once, you can build on that."
Nebraska's pitching had been spectacular before the final inning. Ryan Hander was far from perfect in his 4.1 innings, as he gave up two hits, walked two and hit two batters. But the senior kept escaping from jams before ceding way to Zach Hirsch in the fifth. Hirsch was masterful, retiring the first 10 batters he faced.
"Hander was very gritty," Erstad said. "Let's be honest - he didn't have much stuff. He was trying to find anything. He had a little bit of jitters out there. I don't know what was going on, but we got some food in him and he settled down. He grinded it out. Hirsch came in and did an absolutely fantastic job just eating up innings."
Hirsch gave up a solo shot to lead off the ninth and Erstad called on the normally steady Dylan Vogt. But the senior closer was a mess and couldn't find the strike zone, walking all three hitters he faced before getting the hook.
Luckily, Roeder was there to pick him up. The JUCO transfer has yet to give up a run this year and may be moving toward stealing the closer role from Vogt.
As they have been for much of the season, Nebraska's bats were very quiet for the first six innings, but the Huskers got things cooking in the seventh. NU put two men on when Josh Scheffert reached on an infield single and Kash Kalkowski was hit by a pitch. Austin Darby laid down a sacrifice bunt and UC Irvine hurler Matt Whitehouse tried to cut down Scheffert at third. But his errant throw trickled into left field, allowing Scheffert to come home and break the scoreless tie.
"Welcome to college baseball," Erstad said of his team finally catching a break offensively. "It's all about putting pressure on the other team. It was good for them to have some of their hard work pay off right there."
Bryan Peters then laced a two-RBI single into left to give Nebraska a 3-0 lead. Chad Christensen added an insurance run by leading off the eighth inning with his first home run of the year, a solo blast to left.
Erstad said he could feel a different energy in Friday night's game, a 2-1 loss. The coach saw something shift in his ball club and believes it carried over into Saturday's win.
"Yesterday I liked our passion and energy that we played with," Erstad said. "It was just different. There was a bonding that our team had last night and I really felt it today. I don't think anyone can match our intensity and energy when we bring it like that. It was pretty special."