The Nebraska baseball season began in one of the dreariest ways possible - the news that 2012 ace Kyle Kubat was dealing with arm soreness and was out indefinitely. The sophomore still has yet to pitch and his status is up in the air.
But his absence opened a spot in the rotation and allowed JUCO transfer Christian DeLeon to get a shot. And it's safe to say he's made the most of his opportunity.
After giving up a combined three runs in his first two starts, DeLeon pitched a masterful eight innings Sunday, keeping New Mexico off the board and striking out five batters as NU beat the Lobos 3-0.
"It's amazing," Darin Erstad said. "When guys get opportunities, they either take it and run with it or the other way happens. Let's just say he's done a nice job so far of making the most of his opportunities. When you can throw three pitches for strikes in college baseball and you can pitch backwards and throw offspeed in hitters' counts and keep the ball down, you're going to be successful."
Nebraska's offense still doesn't look much like the juggernaut it did last year, but the bats found a way to get the job done Sunday. The Huskers struck in the first inning without getting a hit, as Rich Sanguinetti walked, was moved over by a sacrifice bunt, stole third and eventually came in on Chad Christensen's RBI ground out.
Both offenses fell silent until the sixth inning, when Christensen roped a 0-2 pitch for a double with two outs. Josh Scheffert stepped up next and mashed a pitch over the leftfield wall, his first home run of the year and NU's first long ball since the season opener.
"It just shows their maturity as hitters and their senior leadership," Erstad said. " (New Mexico pitcher Sam Wolff) is throwing 93 mile-per-hour fastballs and dominating us with his fastball, but they stuck with the approach. Scheff somehow reacted to that thing and hit it out. Those guys set a good example with how you need to be at the plate."
That was all the help DeLeon would need. Although he allowed the leadoff man to reach base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, only one Lobo base runner reached third base all day. When DeLeon arrived at Nebraska, the plan was to use him as a long reliever or midweek starter. But the junior has easily been Nebraska's best pitcher and has locked down his spot in the weekend rotation.
"Really, I just wanted to get on the mound and pitch," DeLeon said. "I just stuck to my game plan and focused on what I needed to do and when I got that first start, I just stayed locked in."
Weather permitting, the Huskers will play Northern Colorado on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Erstad said Ryan Hander and Aaron Bummer would be the starters, respectively.
Around the horn
***When Pat Kelly hit a two-out double in the sixth, he extended his hitting streak to nine games. He is the only Husker to have a hit in every game this season.
***It's a very small sample size, but Nebraska is now 2-0 with Sanguinetti hitting leadoff.
***Nebraska's first-inning score was only the second time this season the Huskers have scored in the opening inning.