After squandering several prime scoring opportunities early in the game with double plays, the Huskers found their offense in the fifth. Leading 3-2, Nebraska plated six runs on five hits in the fifth before adding two more in the sixth to pull away and eventually win 11-2.
And with Indiana's loss to Michigan State earlier in the day, Nebraska pulled into a tie with the Hoosiers atop the Big Ten with a 8-2 conference record.
"We really hadn't put a full game together with defense, pitching and hitting," Darin Erstad said. "Today was by far the most complete game we've played and we can be a pretty decent ball club if we do that. We put constant pressure on them from the get-go and had the opportunity to score some runs. That's hitting. You're not going to get them in all the time, but if you continue to do that, you're going to get base runners and you're going to get through."
The game didn't look like it would be a slugfest coming in. Ohio State starter Jaron Long had a 2.65 ERA and pitched a complete game against Nebraska last season. And though he got in some early trouble, he was able to use the twin killing to wiggle out of several jams.
After ending the first, third and fourth innings with double plays, the NU bats finally capitalized on their opportunities in the fifth. Kash Kalkowski kicked off the inning's scoring with a two-run double to right-center. Blake Headley and Bryan Peters both added RBI singles and Rich Sanguinetti and Pat Kelly brought in runs with a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly, respectively.
"It's like when that dirty snowball gets rolling down the hill," Erstad said. "One guy doesn't get it done and the next guy feels the pressure, then the next guy feels the pressure. But you can also get that good snowball rolling. Guys say, 'I made an out, but the next guy will pick us up.' When that guy does it, that builds confidence. Right now we have that."
The Huskers didn't stop there. Another two-run double by Kalkowski, hit to nearly the same spot as his two-bagger in the fifth, added a pair of insurance runs.
It wasn't like Christian DeLeon needed the help. After getting off to a rough start in Big Ten play, DeLeon looked like the Friday night ace he was during the nonconference schedule. With the wind blowing out, the junior did give up a pair of solo home runs, including one that cleared the wall in center.
But although he gave up eight hits, he didn't walk any batters and prevented any other further scoring in his eight innings. Jeff Chesnut came in and finished off the Buckeyes with a scoreless ninth.
DeLeon didn't give up more than two earned runs in any of his first five starts but seemed to slow down after the past three. He gave up a combined 12 earned runs in 11.1 innings against Illinois and Northwestern and labored early in his start last weekend against Iowa.
But something started to click during the second half of his start against the Hawkeyes and DeLeon carried that performance into Friday's win.
"The credit goes to Christian for just sticking to it," pitching coach Ted Silva said. "He's not a guy that's going to have a bad inning or take a few blows and just quit. If you look at his outings, he gives up a number or two, but he stays in there. He's going to continue to battle and he's going to continue to throw whatever he has that day, whether it's stuff like he had today or the stuff he's had the last couple of weeks. The great thing about him is he's going to give you what he's got that day. You know he's going to give you a chance to win."
The Huskers and Buckeyes will meet again Saturday at 2:05 p.m.
***Kash Kalkowski: had a pair of doubles, the first game with multiple doubles in his career, and four RBIs to lead the NU offense.
***Blake Headley: continued his torrid hot streak with three hits. He also had an RBI and scored a run.
Around the horn
***Pitcher Zach Hirsch broke his non-throwing arm after being hit with a line drive this week in practice. He could miss the rest of the season.
***Sanguinetti led off the first inning with a double, the fourth time in Big Ten play that he led off with a two-bagger.
***The Huskers improved to 7-2 when Headley starts at third.
***The six-run fourth inning was the third time this season Nebraska has batted around in an inning.
***Austin Darby's hitting streak ended at 15 games, which tied Chad Christensen for the team high.