Early on, it looked like Saturday's game against California would play out much like it did on Friday when the Huskers lost 11-8 in extra innings.
The Bears tagged NU starter Jon Keller with three runs in the first two innings and the Huskers squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the first.
But the Husker offense soon dispelled any feelings of déjà vu. NU pounded out 13 hits and junior Rich Sanguinetti's eighth-inning grand slam put the punctuation mark on the 12-5 victory.
"We had a chance there in the first inning with the bases loaded and couldn't get it done," coach Darin Erstad said. "But we didn't get discouraged. We just continued to work. If something doesn't work one time, you gotta keep going. Eventually if you don't get frustrated and stick with the plan, over time it works."
Already down 3-0 in the third, junior first baseman Richard Stock got the Husker offense started with a two-run home run. Cal added another run in the fifth, but the Huskers took the lead for the first time after scoring three runs on four hits, including a Chad Christensen home run, in the bottom of the sixth.
Stock added another run with an RBI single in the seventh, but Cal's Mitch Delfino hit a solo home run to pull the Bears within a run, 6-5.
The Husker hitters started the eighth looking to add an insurance run or two. They ended up scoring six times before Cal even registered an out, the final four coming on when Sanguinetti launched a shot against the wind and over the right-field fence.
Junior reliever Ryan Hander pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the win.
Stock said the Huskers were able to carry some momentum over from Friday's loss, when the Huskers battled back from a 7-0 deficit to tie the game in the ninth. But a comeback accompanied by a win proved to be much more satisfying.
"Seeing that we could come back like that definitely gave us some confidence, but we try not to play for brownie points," Stock said. "We didn't really care about that comeback because ended up losing. This feels great, but we've got to come out and bring it tomorrow."
While the offense stole the show, Keller quietly put together one of his best starts of the season. He gave up eleven hits and five runs (only three were earned), but Erstad couldn't contain his pride in the sophomore after the game.
"He grew up as a player today and as a person," he said. "He got knocked around a little bit, but he kept throwing it in there and kept battling. Next thing you know, he's in the seventh inning. That's just another step for a kid who's starting to mature. He's got a good future."
Keller admitted he was thrown off a bit by the Bears' early success. Cal had seven hits and scored three times in the first three innings.
But he eventually settled in and started to feel comfortable, leading to his longest outing of the season.
"They got a couple hits and I just needed to settle myself down," Keller said. "I felt like I got in a groove and started throwing strikes. My defense played great behind me today."
The Huskers will face Cal tomorrow at 1:05 and again Monday at 12:05.
Around the horn
***After back-to-back outings in which he didn't get past the second inning, Keller had his longest start of his career, throwing 100 pitches over 7.1 strong innings. His previous high was seven innings earlier this season against Utah.
***Third baseman Kurt Farmer missed the game with a strained calf. Erstad said the junior is day-to-day and that it's "nothing serious."
Junior Josh Scheffert, who usually plays first, filled in admirably in his place, making several tough plays, including a bare-handed scoop and throw on a bunt attempt in the fifth inning.
"He played fantastic," Erstad said. "He's taken some ground balls but not a ton. He's a total team player and will do whatever we ask of him. He had a great game."
***Sanguinnetti's eighth inning blast was the first NU grand slam since Farmer hit one against North Dakota on March 19 last year.
***A season-high 5,298 spectators witnessed the victory. The crowd was the largest at Hawks Field since 6,027 fans attended a game against Kansas on April 17, 2010, the same day as the Huskers' spring football game that year.