With all the preseason hype surrounding Nebraska's pitching staff, it seemed unlikely that a newcomer would make the biggest impact on the opening weekend. Yet after Kyle Kubat was scratched and Christian DeLeon and Aaron Bummer slogged through so-so performances in NU's first two games, it was junior college transfer Chance Sinclair that came to the rescue against Gonzaga Saturday night.
Sinclair lasted seven innings (0.1 innings less than DeLeon and Bummer went in their starts combined), giving up just three hits and two runs, both of which were unearned. Nebraska had to survive a late scare by the bullpen, but Josh Roeder slammed the door on Nebraska's 7-4 victory.
The Huskers are now 2-1 on the season. They beat Pacific 5-3 Friday before falling to No. 2 Oregon State 15-7 in their first game Saturday.
"After throwing about 25 pitchers in that first game, we needed (Sinclair) to have a great start and he did just that," Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio show. "We need to minimize (the mistakes) and we will. We'll get better at that. Coming out of a snow bank, you're probably going to have some of those things - maybe more than I'd like, but I think Chance really set the tone for us today."
The offense had no trouble putting men on base early, but it struggled to drive them in. Nebraska's leadoff man reached base in each of the first five innings, though only two of them came around to score. The Huskers left four runners in scoring position in the first four innings, three of which were left on third.
"We had a couple chances early that we really need to finish out," Erstad said. "If we're going to go anywhere this year, we're going to have to execute in those situations consistently. And we will, but we just have to go through some stuff right now."
Fortunately NU was able to break through in the third. Left fielder Michael Pritchard drove in shortstop Steven Reveles and right fielder Christian Cox with a triple, his third three-bagger of the weekend. Second baseman Pat Kelly followed that up with a run-scoring double.
The Bulldogs clawed back within one run in the fourth with the help of an error by third baseman Blake Headley and a balk by Sinclair, but that would be as close as they would get. Austin Darby hit an RBI triple in the bottom of the frame, then Nebraska added three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Nebraska would end up needing those runs. Senior Zach Hirsch worked out of a jam to pitch a scoreless eighth, but Jake Hohensee was wild in his debut in the final frame. The freshman walked two and hit another batter before giving up a run-scoring single, causing Erstad to call on Roeder. The junior allowed a run on another single, but a double-play ground ball ended the game and gave Roeder his second save of the weekend.
Nebraska and Gonzaga will meet again Sunday at 1 p.m. Freshman Derek Burkamper will make the start for Nebraska.
***Second baseman Pat Kelly: After going five-for-five with a triple in the first game Saturday, Kelly added an RBI double in the nightcap and provided his usual standout defense to help back Sinclair.
***Right fielder Christian Cox: The junior college transfer had two hits, scored a pair of runs and drove in a run with his eight-inning single, an insurance run that helped the Huskers gain some breathing room.
Around the horn
***Nebraska already has seven triples in its first three games after hitting 13 all of last year.
***Austin Christensen picked up his first career hit on a single in the eighth inning.
***The Huskers committed three errors in two games Saturday. NU led the Big Ten with a .981 fielding percentage last year.
***Pritchard extended his on-base streak to 45 games with a first-inning walk.