Just one win away from making the Big Ten tournament, the Huskers stole an early lead with a run in the first inning Thursday night at Michigan. But the Wolverines got to starter Kyle Kubat, tagging him for two runs in the first. Then the first two hitters reached in the third and NU looked to be in trouble.
But Richard Stock made a play that completely flipped the momentum. After Kubat delivered a pitch, the junior catcher whipped a throw to second to catch the lead runner napping for the first out. Kubat cruised through the rest of the inning and from there, the rout was on.
Nebraska scored four in the third inning and five in the fourth to pull away from the Wolverines, eventually winning 15-2 and securing their spot in next week's conference tournament.
It's the first time Nebraska has made a league tournament since 2008.
"We got off to a little bit of a slow start and Stock made a huge play there and Kyle righted the ship," coach Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio show. "We could've gone sideways there in the first few innings, but we minimized and got out of it. We let our offense do the work."
The Huskers got started offensively when Rich Sanguinetti drew a bases-loaded walk in the first inning. They wouldn't score in the second, but chased Michigan starter Matt Ogden with six straight hits to start the inning. The Huskers plated four runs, but possibly left some runs on the board with two of their outs coming on base running errors.
But the fourth inning ensured Nebraska wouldn't miss those runs. The Huskers scored five times on five hits to pull away and establish a 10-2 lead.
That would be more than enough for Kubat, who pitched five shutout innings after the rocky first. Travis Huber, Luke Bublitz and Aaron Bummer finished the Wolverines off to help NU improve to 33-20 overall and 13-9 in conference play.
"He shut them down and gave us a chance to score some runs," Erstad said of Kubat. "He's still a freshman and there are going to be bumps in the road, but what he's doing as far as guys stepping up, well there you go. He's really stepping up and changing the course of our conference play."
The Huskers work isn't done as their seed in the tournament has yet to be decided. Junior Ryan Hander will oppose the Wolverines tomorrow at 5:05 before the regular season finale Saturday.
But for a group of players short on career success, Erstad can allow them a little bit of celebration before the work begins again.
"I tip my hat to the players," Erstad said. "They're the ones who do it on the field and a lot of those guys have never been to a conference tournament, so I'm really proud of them that they get to experience that."
Around the horn
***Stock has struck out just twice in Big Ten play. His last conference strikeout came on March 31 against Northwestern.
Stock also extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a line-drive single in the third inning.
***Chad Christensen's bunt single in the third was his ninth successful bunt hit of the year in 11 attempts.
***NU has now scored ten or more runs five times in conference play.