After Friday night's 4-3 loss to Iowa, coach Darin Erstad said he didn't know if his team knew how to win in conference play.
The Huskers seem to be learning quickly.
Nebraska entered the bottom of the ninth down 8-5 but scored four runs in the frame, including a walk-off RBI single by senior Kale Kiser, to come back and beat the Hawkeyes 9-8. NU is now 22-12 on the season and 5-4 in Big Ten play.
"That's why I love this game," Erstad said on his postgame radio show. "There's so many ways to win and there's so many things that can happen. I honestly thought our bullpen would be able to hold it, but to their credit they took advantage of a couple of our mistakes. But we did the same against a closer that pretty much dominated us on Friday. We had a chance and we took advantage of it."
Kash Kalkowski and Richard Stock started off the last of the ninth with back-to-back singles. Josh Scheffert singled to bring in Kalkowski. Freshman Austin Darby used a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up a base for Pat Kelly, who came through with a two-run triple.
Kiser completed the comeback by slashing a 0-2 pitch for a single that brought Kelly home, earning himself a postgame shaving cream pie to the face from Cory Burleson.
Kiser didn't start the game and was brought in as a defensive replacement in the ninth.
"He's been struggling his tail off," Erstad said. "He's probably mad that he's going to play defense and has no idea he's going to hit. He just gets it done."
The Huskers never would have been in position for the comeback without a collapse by what has recently been a solid bullpen. Nebraska led 4-1 heading into the sixth and starter Zach Hirsch was pitching effectively.
But the wheels came off at that point. Hirsch allowed a single and a walk to start the sixth before Erstad called on Dylan Vogt. Vogt got one out before giving up an RBI single that brought the Hawkeyes within one.
Vogt and managed to get out of the inning, but the struggles continued in the seventh. Darby committed his first career error in leftfield and Erstad brought in sophomore Luke Bublitz to replace King. The reliever had his worst outing of the season, giving up four runs in 1.1 innings before he was replaced with Travis Huber.
Huber allowed just one base runner and no runs in the final 1.2 innings, setting up the Huskers' ninth-inning heroics.
Erstad said that while this is the type of game that can spark a turnaround and create momentum, it's not going to happen if the Huskers revert back to their play from the past week and a half. But seeing the hard work come to fruition will no doubt help.
"You can talk to me in about two months and we'll see if we can make a cute little story out of it and say this was the day that it happened," Erstad said. "Unfortunately, it usually doesn't work that way. It's something to build off of, but we need to continue to work hard and continue to come through in those situations. To go out and do what they did today to win a series is pretty impressive."
Around the horn
***Bublitz had been in a bit of a groove before his outing Sunday. He had given up just one base runner in his last three outings combined.
***Scheffert's second-inning home run was his first since March 16 against Louisiana Tech.