After it blew the lead in Nebraska's loss to Michigan Thursday night, the bullpen again threatened to submarine an excellent effort by an NU starter. Aaron Bummer left with a 9-2 lead after seven sterling innings and the bullpen arms promptly gave up four runs without getting an out in the eighth.
But Darin Erstad turned the game over to Josh Roeder and the sophomore, who has become the pen's most dependable arm, shut down the Wolverines for the game's final two innings to give Nebraska (25-27, 15-8) a 9-6 home win over Michigan (28-25, 13-10).
"If (Roeder is) our last resort, I'm pretty happy with that," Darin Erstad said. "That's why he's a closer. He thrives in those situations. The bigger the situation, the more he rises to the challenge. We needed him there and he came in and got the job done."
The win ensures that Nebraska can be no lower than the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. If NU wins its series finale Saturday and Indiana beats Ohio State, the Huskers will be the No. 2 seed and lock down one of the coveted first-round byes.
The Huskers looked like they would cruise to an easy victory for most of the game. Although Michigan scored first with a pair of runs in the second inning, it didn't take long for the Huskers to answer. Nebraska scored its first two runs on a pair of bunt singles in the second, then second baseman Pat Kelly smoked a three-run homer, his first of the year, to give NU a 5-2 lead.
"We've got a group of guys that when we have a good approach and swing at good pitches, we can put pressure on other teams," Erstad said. "Our guys are aggressive when they get a pitch to hit and things can happen."
Nebraska tacked on two runs apiece in the fourth and sixth innings to gain a commanding 9-2 lead, but things went sour in the top of the eighth. Michael Hoppes gave up a single and hit a batter, then Tyler King issued a walk and gave up a grand slam to Michael O'Neill. The once-commanding lead was cut to three.
But Roeder allowed just one base runner in his two innings of work, striking out four to lock down his fifth save of the year.
Roeder's work assured that Bummer's masterpiece wouldn't be wasted. Coming off seven shutout innings at Minnesota last Sunday, Bummer was nearly that good Friday night. He allowed just four hits and one walk and one of the two runs he gave up was unearned.
"When they went out there and did that, all you have to do is go out and throw strikes," Bummer said. "Just be down in the zone and keep the game moving as much as possible."
The Huskers and Wolverines will play the series finale at 12:05 p.m. Saturday.
***Pat Kelly: The second baseman finished a triple short of the cycle. The home run was one of his three hits and he scored a pair of runs.
***Tanner Lubach: On fire doesn't begin to describe Lubach's state right now. Over the last six games, he is hitting .590 with 10 RBI. Adding to that total was a 2 for 2 performance Friday night.
Around the horn
***Erstad said Dylan Vogt would be available for Saturday's game and Roeder could be as well.
***Kash Kalkowski was plunked in the third inning, the 20th time he has been hit by a pitch this season. He is now tied with Kale Kiser for fourth on NU's all-time list with 46 in his career.
***Nebraska improved to 12-5 at home on the season. The Huskers are 12-19 on the road.
***Michael Pritchard has now reached base safely at least once in each of NU's past 35 games.
***The Huskers are 17-10 when third baseman Blake Headley starts.