Coming into their game against conference-leading Minnesota Friday, the Huskers knew runs would be hard to come by. Golden Gopher starter Tom Windle had a 1.82 ERA and will likely be a first-round pick in the MLB Draft this summer. So when Nebraska stranded seven runners in scoring position in the game's first seven innings, it certainly seemed like a bad omen.
But as Darin Erstad alluded to earlier this week, Minnesota's bullpen is vulnerable. He believed that if the Huskers could stick with the Gophers until their starter left, they would have a chance, and that scenario played out exactly right Friday afternoon in Minneapolis.
Josh Scheffert blasted a solo home run in the top of the eighth and the NU offense scored four runs in the ninth to back a great start by Christian DeLeon and beat Minnesota 6-0. Nebraska is now 22-25 on the season and 13-6 in the Big Ten.
"Their guy on the mound is a first-rounder," Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "He's really good. We just had a slow grind and kept making at-bats tough on him. We had some guys on base and some opportunities to score some runs and we didn't get them across. But our guys just had a calmness to them today and we broke through in the end."
Nebraska took advantage of a Windle throwing error in the first when Scheffert dumped an RBI single into left field with two outs, but the UM lefty kept the Huskers in check from there. Nebraska put plenty of pressure on Windle but missed on several scoring opportunities, most notably when it left the bases loaded in the seventh.
But Scheffert's home run helped chase Windle and NU went to work on the Gophers' relievers. The Huskers scored four times on four hits in the top of the ninth, capped off by an RBI triple by Kash Kalkowski.
That was more than enough scoring for NU starter Christian DeLeon, who spent much of his afternoon handcuffing the UM hitters. DeLeon kept Minnesota off the board for the game's first six innings before giving way to Dylan Vogt, who picked up his eighth save of the year by silencing the Gophers for the final three frames.
"He gives us a chance to win," Erstad said of DeLeon. "If the score is 5-4 when he leaves, it's 5-4. If he needs to make it 2-0, he makes it 2-0. He just has that ability to keep the score close and he's been great for us all year."
The news out of Minneapolis isn't all positive, however. Erstad noticed DeLeon didn't look right as he was making his warm-up tosses before the seventh inning. After a quick chat with the junior, Erstad pulled DeLeon and turned it over to Vogt. The coach couldn't comment much on DeLeon's status after the game.
"He slowed his tempo down and I saw him moving his arm around a little bit," Erstad said. "I just went out there to make sure he was OK. He said he's a little tight. We'll see where it's at. It's nothing I can really comment on right now because I don't really know. I just thought that was the safe play right there to make sure we'll have him for the rest of the season."
The two teams will play again at 2:05 p.m. Saturday.
***Christian DeLeon: The potential injury might be worrisome, but DeLeon had one of the best starts of his young Nebraska career. The junior shut the Golden Gophers out over six innings, giving up just three hits and a pair of walks.
***Josh Scheffert: An arm injury has made this a very frustrating senior year for Scheffert, but Friday was a banner day for the designated hitter. Scheffert led the NU offense with three RBIs and clubbed his second home run of the season in the eighth inning.
"It's so great to see Josh do well with everything he's been through this year," Erstad said. "He made a couple of adjustments at the plate with Coach (Will) Bolt and you can see he's starting to get his bat speed back. I would imagine that probably means his elbow is starting to feel a little better.
***Kash Kalkowski: He made several plays digging out bad throws at first and picked up a double and a triple in five trips to the plate.
Around the horn
***It was reported on the radio broadcast that pitcher Zach Hirsch, who has been out with a broken right arm, has had the cast removed and has been throwing. It's not certain what the timetable for his return looks like, but he might be available soon.
***Both Michael Pritchard and Rich Sanguinetti extended their on-base streaks. Pritchard reached on an error in the first to extend his streak to 30 games and Sanguinetti used a ninth-inning single to improve his streak to 31 games. Sanguinetti is also on a 13-game hitting streak.
***The Huskers are now 2-5 when Pat Kelly hits first in the order.
***Vogt picked up his eighth save of the season.