The hits were few and far between for Nebraska Wednesday night, but the Huskers were able to string together enough base runners to back a strong pitching performance and beat Nebraska-Omaha 4-1. NU is now 29-17 on the season, tying their win total from last year.
Rain delayed the game's start by about 45 minutes and clouds threatened for portions of the contest, but play went on uninterrupted. That allowed both teams' pitching staffs to settle into a rhythm, leading to a low-scoring matchup.
Nebraska had no trouble offensively in the teams' last meeting, a 17-6 win on April 16. But Darin Erstad wasn't expecting a repeat performance.
"That last game we played was one of those games where it felt like we could close our eyes and find a hole," Erstad said. "It was crazy. We knew we'd have our hands full tonight. We knew we were going to have to be sharp to win tonight."
Neither team scored in the game's first four innings. Kyle Kubat wasn't asked to pitch deep into the game, but he was effective over three innings in one of his better showings in some time. He walked a batter in the first and gave up a leadoff double in the second, but recovered to retire the next six hitters and keep Nebraska-Omaha off the board.
"I settled in after the first inning," Kubat said. "I thought the changeup was on, and they're an aggressive team, so you can get ahead with them with a couple of pitches that make them guess a little bit more. I hit my spots and was feeling good those second and third innings."
It took the Nebraska offense quite some time to wake up, but the Huskers finally broke through in the sixth. With NU down 1-0, Austin Darby lashed a double to right with one out, and Michael Pritchard doubled to left to tie the game. Then Pat Kelly singled to center and score Pritchard.
"That was good responding after they scored one," Erstad said. "We used the whole field and Darby got that thing going. That was a big inning to get the momentum back. I tell you, their pitchers do a really nice job of keeping the ball down and that was just a tough game."
After a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Darby got the offense started again in the eighth. He stole second and eventually came in to score on an RBI single by Ben Miller. The junior came through yet again in the top of the ninth, giving Nebraska another insurance run with a two-out infield single that plated Austin Christensen.
That ended up being all the offense Nebraska would need. Colton Howell gave up an unearned run in the fifth, but Bob Greco and Zach Hirsch combined to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings to get the game in Josh Roeder's hands, and the closer nailed down the save.
Nebraska is in action next this weekend at Haymarket Park against Penn State.
Christian DeLeon update
Erstad said Friday starter Christian DeLeon may miss his start this weekend, and that's why Kubat pitched only three innings Wednesday night. Chance Sinclair and Aaron Bummer will start Friday and Saturday, respectively, then either Kubat or DeLeon will pitch Sunday.
"Christian is just not responding real well, so we're going to give him a couple of extra days," Erstad said. "We'll see where he's at on Friday and make our decision from there… It's just one of those things - after your start, you're sore for a couple of days and it goes away. It just hasn't gone away yet."
Kyle Kubat: The lefty threw only three innings, but he gave Nebraska exactly what it needed. Kubat allowed just two base runners and struck out two, keeping Nebraska-Omaha off the board while the offense tried to find its footing.
Austin Darby: On a night when offense was tough to come by, Darby was Nebraska's sparkplug. He had two hits and a walk, twice leading off an inning by getting on base. The right fielder also scored twice and knocked in a run.
Around the horn
***Nebraska is now 5-4 this season in true nonconference road games.
***The Huskers are now 10-3 overall when Ryan Boldt bats leadoff.
***The attendance was 2,172.