Darin Erstad hasn't taken a lot of mound visits this year, but he felt it was necessary in the fifth inning Thursday. The Huskers were bending to the pressure during the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, and a pair of errors had allowed Michigan State to score a run and pull within 2-1 with more runners on base.
His message - everyone just needed to calm down, breathe and lighten up. So of course, Aaron Bummer promptly walked the next two hitters.
The lefty allowed the Spartans to tie the game with a sacrifice fly, but then he buckled down. Bummer and Zach Hirsch kept MSU off the board for the remainder of the game, and Michael Pritchard's seventh inning double gave Nebraska a 3-2 edge, which would prove to be the final margin.
"I just thought it was getting a little fast for the boys out there, so I thought I'd just go out there for a chat to slow them down, just look them in the eye and get a few smiles out of them," Erstad said. "It wasn't one of those scoldings. It was one of those, 'Hey, we've played fantastic defense. It was just an aberration. Remember how we got where we got, and just go back out and do our thing.'"
A day after Chance Sinclair lasted just 3.1 innings and Nebraska had to dip into its bullpen early on, Bummer gave the NU relievers all the rest they needed. Bummer threw 112 pitches in seven innings, allowing just two runs (both of which were unearned) on four hits and two walks. He matched a career high with seven strikeouts.
"There are a lot of things that we work on called the confounder - it's just one of those things where we have to minimize the miscues that we have," Bummer said. "After we make those miscues, we have to minimize the damage from there.
"It was just one of those things where I needed to get back in the zone. The way my stuff was working, I thought I could challenge them, so I did."
Nebraska kicked off the scoring in the third inning when Steven Reveles led off with a double and Ryan Boldt followed suit with a run-scoring double. Boldt came through again in the fourth, knocking in Tanner Lubach with a two-out RBI single in the fourth.
Michigan State tied the game with Nebraska's rough fifth inning, which saw both Jake Placzek and Blake Headley commit errors. But Bummer retired six of the seven batters he faced in the next two innings to steady the ship.
"He just regrouped, reset and found a way through it," Erstad said. "We've seen it a few times where the wheels have fallen off and we've had to go get him. He was able to fight through that, and that's growing as a person and a player. That was fun to watch. Everyone's going crazy and I'm just loving it. Seeing him fight through those emotions, I just love seeing that."
Pritchard's double scored Placzek to give NU the lead again in the seventh, and then it was Hirsch's turn to shut down the Spartans. He gave up a pair of base runners in the eighth, but escaped without allowing the tying run, then retired MSU in order in the ninth to earn his fourth save of the year.
Nebraska will next play Saturday at 9 a.m. Its opponent won't be decided until Friday afternoon, but the Huskers are feeling confidence regardless of who else is on the diamond.
"This is where we want to be," Placzek said. "We're in a great position and we just have to keep it rolling."
Outfielder Ryan Boldt: The freshman was the only Husker able to drive runs in early on. Nebraska stranded seven base runners in the first five innings, but Boldt plated two of them, and one of his hits came at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat.
Starter Aaron Bummer: It's been an up-and-down season for Bummer at times, but the junior had arguably his finest outing of the year Thursday. The Spartans were just 1-for-10 with runners on base with Bummer on the mound, and he routinely thwarted MSU's attack despite some sloppy defense behind him.
Around the horn
***Erstad said Kyle Kubat will pitch the first (and potentially only) game Saturday. He added that Christian DeLeon isn't ready to throw and won't pitch in the tournament.
***Pritchard's seventh-inning double was his 20th this year, bringing him to a tie with MSU's Blaise Salter for the most in the conference. The Huskers tied a season high with five doubles as a team.
***The Huskers used two sacrifice bunts Thursday, moving their Big Ten-leading total to 53.
***Nebraska had multiple errors for the first time since April 19. Reveles, Placzek and Headley all had a miscue in the field.
***The attendance was 11,759, bringing the total attendance for the tournament to 22,159, a Big Ten record.