There have not been many times the Huskers have been outhit this season. Usually, the NU offense is strong enough to beat around opposing pitchers and cruise to a victory.
Nebraska had to use a different strategy on Friday as Northwestern had 15 hits compared to 13 for the Huskers. But while most of the Wildcats' hits were singles, the Huskers had four extra-base hits, including a solo home run from freshman Pat Kelly, and beat Northwestern 7-4, moving to 19-9 on the year and 3-1 in Big Ten play.
The Huskers left plenty of runners on base in the early innings, and for a while it looked like it might cost them. Nebraska scored two runs in the second, but couldn't tag on any more despite having runners on second and third with no outs.
Another squandered opportunity came in the fifth when the Huskers loaded the bases with no outs. Northwestern pitcher Francis Brooke got Chad Christensen and Kash Kalkowski out before Richard Stock reached on an infield single. But a base running error brought about the third out, limiting the damage.
The offense was eventually able to find itself, scoring once in the sixth and twice in the eighth to give the NU pitchers some breathing room.
"You can't let (those failed chances) affect you," coach Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio show. "You just keep going and keep going offensively, and we did a good job of that. If the umpire calls a bad pitch, you can't let that take you out of your at-bat. If they make a bad call on the bases, you can't let that affect you. There's things like that that are out of your control. We go out and play hard and don't compound problems."
NU starter Tom Lemke needed all the help he could get. The junior got himself into a jam in nearly every inning, but was usually able to maneuver his way out. That is, except for the third inning, when he allowed the first five Wildcats to reach base and three runs to score before recording an out.
But Lemke got out of the inning without further damage and although he gave up 11 hits, he kept Northwestern off the board for the rest of his outing.
After Tyler King gave up a run in the seventh, Dylan Vogt and Travis Huber blanked Northwestern over the final 2.1 innings to preserve the lead.
"(Lemke) battled, but we want more," Erstad said. "He got sideways in that inning but he got it together. He had some situations where he had two strikes on guys and couldn't put them away. Give Tom credit. He did a nice job battling for us and gave us an opportunity to win."
The Huskers had that opportunity thanks to the bat of Kelly, whose home run was just one of his three hits. He had two RBIs and scored twice, waking up the lethargic NU offense.
Kelly's bat has been great all season and he leads the Huskers in batting average. It's his glove that has let him down (he has a team-high six errors despite playing in only 16 games) and kept him off the field at times. But he was solid in the field Friday, allowing his bat to shine.
"He looked great," Erstad said. "He's a kid. He's just starting to play and you can see he's starting to get up to the speed of Division I baseball in the field. He's obviously up to speed at the plate. Everybody has a little bit of a different transition going from high school to college. He's really doing a nice job of working, and it's paying off on the field."
The Huskers and Wildcats will face off again Saturday at 1 p.m.
Around the horn
***Kale Kiser was hit by a pitch twice Friday and has now been hit by a pitch 41 times in his career.
***Lemke gave up 11 hits, but did a good job of preventing the Wildcats from getting extra bases. Each hit was a single.
***It was Northwestern's first home game of the year after 22 road games to begin the season.