MINNEAPOLIS - On May 10, Darin Erstad pulled Christian DeLeon after six shutout innings against Minnesota because he could tell something wasn't right with the starter. DeLeon admitted to arm soreness and missed his start last weekend against Michigan rehabbing.
But in a do-or-die game against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament Saturday, the Huskers turned to DeLeon, who said he felt good to go. The rust certainly showed early, as the junior walked the leadoff man and allowed him to reach third on an errant pickoff throw to first. But DeLeon beared down from there and not only stranded the runner, but followed that up with seven more shutout innings to help Nebraska (28-29) win 5-0 and eliminate Ohio State (35-23).
"At the beginning of the game, I kept missing up and getting lazy with it and not following through," DeLeon said. "When that runner got on third, I knew I had to bear down and compete. To get that guy not to score from third with no outs was huge. It gave me a lot of confidence. After that first inning, I kind of knew what I needed to do throughout the game."
The Huskers will now play Indiana at 7:05 Saturday. If NU wins, the two will play again tomorrow at noon. If Indiana wins, the tournament is over.
The last two weeks were near torture for DeLeon. Instead of helping the Huskers in their bid to make the Big Ten Tournament, he was confined to rehab sessions that lasted about an hour every day in addition to ice, heat and STEM treatments.
It took him awhile to get going Saturday. He threw 42 pitches in the first three innings, making it appear he wouldn't be able to last deep into the game. But the right-hander realized that his fastball was the one pitch that was really working for him and rode his heater into the ninth inning.
"I knew I didn't have my best stuff," DeLeon said. "My changeup and slider today just weren't working for me. What really got me through that game was my fastball, just staying down in the zone."
DeLeon walked the leadoff man in the ninth, but Jeff Chesnut retired the Buckeyes to secure the win.
After putting just one base runner on in the first three innings, the Husker offense got going in the fourth. The Huskers used four hits, including an RBI single by left fielder Michael Pritchard and an RBI double by third baseman Blake Headley. After three more quiet innings, Chad Christensen knocked a two-RBI single back up the middle to provide the final margin.
Dylan Vogt will start the second game for the Huskers, his first start since 2011. Thanks to DeLeon's effort, most of Nebraska's bullpen will be available to face Indiana.
"Gosh, I wanted this one," DeLeon said. "I couldn't compete last weekend for them, I was really bummed about that. My teammates get a lot of the credit too. They backed me up. I wanted to win for them really bad."
Around the horn
***Pritchard has reached base at least once in each of Nebraska's last 40 games.