When Taylor Fish joined coaches Darin Erstad and Will Bolt in a quick conference before his bases-loaded, two-out at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, things looked rather bleak for the sophomore. Thomas Hackimer, St. John's pitcher, is a submarining hurler who hadn't given up a hit to a right-handed batter all year, and Fish hadn't played in over two weeks before entering the game late as a defensive replacement.
Add all that to the fact that Nebraska was 0-5 on the season when tied or losing after seven innings.
As Fish left the huddle and walked to the plate, Erstad whispered to Bolt, "Good luck."
But Fish found a way to overcome the odds. After watching the first five pitches to work a 3-2 count, Fish squirted a single past the diving second baseman to score Austin Christensen from third and give Nebraska the 7-6 victory.
Nebraska has won three straight to improve to 7-5 this year and 2-0 at home.
"It's almost an impossible matchup for a right-hander against that guy," Erstad said. "To not have an at-bat for quite a few games and to be in that situation and come through, that's just a testament to Taylor's work and his value to our team."
Fish had played in two games and had just five at-bats coming into Saturday. But after starting catcher Tanner Lubach was lifted for pinch runner Ty Kildow in the eighth, Erstad called down to the bullpen, where Fish was warming up closer Josh Roeder, and told the catcher to be ready.
"You never go up to the plate looking to walk, especially in that situation," Fish said. "You want to be the guy that gets the big hit to win the game. You live for those big moments like that, and fortunately this time it came through for me."
Fish's heroics saved the NU bullpen from blowing the game for Nebraska. The Huskers led 6-3 after a three-run sixth inning, but Zach Hirsch and Bob Greco gave up three runs of their own in the top of the seventh. Nebraska spoiled a chance to tie the game in the eighth with the speedy Kildow on third and top hitter Michael Pritchard up, but the left fielder popped out to second.
Erstad turned to Roeder to keep the game knotted, and his closer responded with a 1-2-3 inning. The game appeared headed for extras after second baseman Pat Kelly flew out to center and third baseman Blake Headley struck out to start the bottom of the ninth.
But Christensen singled to center and pinch hitter Bryce Only drew a walk. Center fielder Ryan Boldt battled pitcher Matt Clancy to a 3-2 count and walked to load the bases.
St. John's brought in Hackimer, who has yet to give up a run this year. Usually in this situation, Erstad would have countered with a left-handed pinch hitter, but injuries have left Nebraska thin at catcher. With Lubach already out of the game, Erstad had no choice but to leave Fish in. Turns out it was a wise decision.
"That guy was tough to pick up, especially in the shadows like this," Fish said. "I actually got jammed a little bit, but luckily it squeezed through for me. I thought the second baseman was going to make a diving play."
Nebraska will go for the weekend sweep Sunday at 12:05 p.m.
Austin Darby: The right fielder only had one hit on the day, but he made it count. Darby broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth by sharply singling back up the middle to plate two runs.
Austin Christensen: The sophomore continues to rake in his first opportunity at playing time. Christensen had two hits to raise his average to .333. He knocked in a run, stole his first career base and scored the game-winning run. Not a bad day of work for the first baseman.
Around the horn
***Pritchard's sixth-inning single extended his on-base streak to 54 games, extending his school record.
***Shortstop Jake Placzek has had two or more hits in four straight games.
***The attendance was 1,732.