When Darin Erstad sent Blake Headley to the plate as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of game two against Arkansas Tuesday, the wheels in his mind were already turning for the next move. He found speedster Ty Kildow and was telling him that he would go in as a pinch runner if Headley got on base.
"Let's just say Blake blew that plan up," Erstad said.
As those instructions were being submitted, Headley launched a solo home run, the first of his career, over the wall in right to give Nebraska a 2-1 lead. The Huskers would score two more runs after that to come away with a 4-2 win.
"There was a lot of cussing and a lot of excitement," first baseman Kash Kalkowski said of the mood in the dugout after the home run. "It was a big hit from Blake coming off the bench and hitting a bomb like that."
The win gave the Huskers a doubleheader sweep over No. 12 Arkansas after a trio of Nebraska pitchers combined to no-hit the Razorbacks in game one. After several sluggish performances in midweek outings, the Huskers finally gave Erstad the showing he had been searching for.
"I told our guys 'I'll give you the bad news first - you just showed me what you're capable of in a midweek game,'" Erstad said. "That's the expectation. On the good side of it, I'm proud of my boys. They competed for 18 innings and I'm proud of them."
Pitching was king at Haymarket Park Tuesday. It was no surprise to see Arkansas' pitchers excel - the Razorbacks entered the day with a team ERA of 1.72, the lowest mark in the nation. But they were outdueled by Nebraska's staff, which has had its share of bumps and bruises this season.
Kyle Kubat started the day off with five no-hit innings in game one and the game two pitchers followed his lead. Brandon Pierce was his usual wild self but escaped several jams. The combination of Tyler King, Caleb Hawkins, Luke Bublitz and Jeff Chesnut kept the score knotted until NU's three-run eighth inning. Josh Roeder gave up a run but eventually shut the door in the ninth.
"At the end of the day, we wanted them to compete," Erstad said. "I think Kyle really set the tone early. He came out and just threw strikes and commanded the zone and guys just fed off of that. Pierce did kind of his normal thing - he threw the ball to the backstop and had four walks, but he made pitches when he had to. All around, it was a nice total team effort."
The offense did its part as well. After scoring a run in the fourth, NU was shut down until Headley's shot in the eighth. But the next three hitters all singled to load the bases and Chad Christensen and Austin Darby were able to each drive in an insurance run, scores that proved crucial when the Razorbacks scored in the ninth.
"As shocked as I was that we no-hit them (in game one), I was just as shocked we got five hits off of them," Erstad said. "They're just a phenomenal pitching staff. Our guys did a nice job of sticking with our approach and finding a way to get it done."
***Kyle Kubat: pretty tough to beat the sophomore's first appearance of the year. He pitched the first five innings of NU's no-hitter in game one, striking out three and allowing just two base runners.
***Chad Christensen: on a day when offense was at a premium, Christensen came through. He had a combined three hits on the day and knocked in three of NU's seven runs.
***Blake Headley: was 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts in the first game, but Husker fans will forgive him after his eighth-inning bomb in game two gave Nebraska the lead.
Around the horn
***Headley's home run was NU's first pinch-hit long ball since Kelly hit one March 21 against Northern Colorado.
***Michael Pritchard had a hit in both games to move his hitting streak to 16 games, the longest by a Husker this year.
***The Razorbacks put at least two men on base just three times all Tuesday.