In Nebraska's opener in the Big Ten Tournament last year, Kyle Kubat dominated Michigan for seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit in the 11-2 victory.
The Wolverines didn't fare any better against the junior a year later. Kubat was again a thorn in their side, this time ending UM's season with his best outing of the season and sending the Huskers to the conference title game Sunday at 1 p.m.
"Strike one is the key, staying ahead of hitters," Kubat said. "Once they get used to the fastball, you start mixing them off-speed. You just keep mixing it in and out, up and down, fast and slow."
Kubat pitched a career-high 8.2 innings, leaving the game only to ensure senior Luke Bublitz got a final chance to pitch in the tournament. Kubat allowed just one run on three hits and two hits while striking out a career-high six.
The 2014 season has been a challenging one for Kubat, who had a 5.18 ERA coming into Saturday after posting marks of 1.81 and 2.63 in 2013 and 2012, respectively. But he said this outing is a reminder to the rest of the Big Ten of what he's capable of.
"Baseball is a game of up and downs," he said. "You have to take them as they come, and right now, you just have to put that all aside and take it one game at a time."
Michigan freshman Keith Lehmann, starting just his second career game, matched Kubat pitch for pitch in the early going. Nebraska finally pushed a run across with an RBI single by Tanner Lubach in the fourth, but the real damage came in the sixth.
The Huskers batted around in the frame, scoring five runs on four hits. Austin Darby and Jake Placzek each had RBI hits, but the game was broken open by a trio of bases-loaded walks by Steven Reveles, Ryan Boldt and Michael Pritchard.
"When you have 12,000 people screaming and you get to a 3-2 count, it's hard to lay off pitches," Erstad said. "It takes a lot of discipline, so our guys did a very nice job there. We mixed a couple of hits in, and it was a fantastic job by our boys."
The offense did its part, but the day belonged to Kubat, who took a shutout into the ninth inning. He may have missed out on his first career complete game, but the junior saved NU's bullpen for a Sunday showdown with either Indiana or Michigan State.
"I think from the first inning I knew Kyle was going to be good today," Lubach said. "The fastball was working for him and the changeup was moving. I guess you could say from an early point I had confidence for Kyle to go quite a way."
Starter Kyle Kubat: The lefty's longest outing this season had been 6.2 innings, but he blew that away by peppering the Wolverines with a heavy dose of first-pitch strikes. Kubat needed just 104 pitches (71 of which were strikes) to nearly post his first career complete game.
Catcher Tanner Lubach: Not only did Lubach do a great job with Kubat behind the plate, but he got it done with the bat as well. Lubach knocked in the game's first run in the fourth inning, and also added a double and a walk.
Around the horn
***Erstad said he's not sure who will start tomorrow. Both Christian DeLeon and Chance Sinclair are unavailable. DeLeon threw a bullpen of 26 fastballs and felt good, but Erstad said he's still building his arm up.
***The Huskers hit four doubles, bringing their total to 10 for the tournament.
***Reveles forced in a run with a walk in the sixth, just his second RBI since April 26.
***The attendance was 12,011, a Big Ten Tournament record for a single session.