MINNEAPOLIS - Rich Sanguinetti couldn't have picked a better moment for the first home run of his Nebraska career.
For the second straight day, it appeared one big inning by the opposition would doom any otherwise solid effort by the Huskers. This time the culprit was a four-run second inning by New Mexico State that chased starter Jon Keller.
But the bullpen silenced the Aggie bats and the Huskers scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, the final two coming on a walk-off home run by Sanguinetti, to secure a 6-4 win for Nebraska.
"He threw a fastball and I think it was supposed to go away, but he left it over the middle," Sanguinetti said. "It came in looking like a beach ball. I'm just glad I could get a good swing on it."
In Friday's 4-1 loss to West Virginia, a strong performance by the Husker pitching staff was submarined by a three-run sixth inning by the Mountaineers. It appeared a similar script would play out Saturday when the Aggies pounded out four hits and four runs in the second inning, bumping Keller early. Reliever Dylan Vogt prevented any future damage by striking out Cody Edwards with the bases loaded.
The Husker offense responded in the bottom half of the inning with an RBI single by freshman Pat Kelly, but Ty Kildow grounded out with the bases loaded.
Nebraska inched closer in the fourth when freshman Austin Darby launched a solo shot to right, his first career home run.
But Aggie starter Ryan Beck bore down. The Huskers could muster only two baserunners from the fifth to the eighth inning, neither of whom advanced past first base.
"He was mixing it up and hitting his spots," Sanguinetti said of Beck. "He kept us off-balance with his off-speed. His location was on. We had a lot of good swings, but we just hit the ball right at people."
New Mexico State coach Rocky Ward opted for closer Scott Coffman in the ninth, and NU coach Darin Erstad emptied his bench in an attempt to get back in the game. Michael Pritchard pinch hit for Kelly and led off with a single, and Richard Stock, batting for Sam Stucky, brought him in with a double in the right-center gap.
Blake Headley came in to run for Stock, and Darby used a sacrifice bunt to move him to third. Kash Kalkowski, who hasn't done anything but pinch hit since injuring his groin in practice two weeks ago, came in to hit for Bryan Peters and, after whiffing on the first two pitches, poked a single through the right side of the infield to tie the game at four.
Kale Kiser was called out on batter interference when Cory Burleson, pinch running for Kalkowski, tried to steal second. That set the stage for Sanguinetti's two-out heroics.
"We just came alive," Erstad said. "It's really the same as yesterday. We left 10 guys on base. We didn't get that big hit. You've just got to believe that it's going to happen. You just have to fight and fight and fight."
While Sanguinetti played the role of hero Saturday, the work of the bullpen can't be forgotten. Keller exited just four outs into the game, and six Husker relievers combined to keep New Mexico State off the board from that point on.
"You can't say enough about them," Erstad said. "They did an awesome job. Jon was off today, but that's what a team effort is all about. We had guys pick him up."
Sanguinetti hardly seemed like a walk-off candidate when he stepped to the plate. The junior college transfer is more known for his speed than his power. He hit five home runs in his first two years at Texarkana Community College.
But when Coffman left one over the plate, Sanguinetti had no choice.
"It's hard to describe," Sanguinetti said. "You're so proud and happy, for the team really. It was a tough game and we battled back. To end it in that fashion… it was incredible."
Around the horn
***Saturday's game marked the seventh meeting between the two teams. The Huskers now own a 4-3 edge in the series. They had last met in 1999.
***Vogt's strikeout to end the second inning kicked off a career day for the junior. He recorded a career-high four strikeouts in his 2.1 innings pitched.
***Freshman Kyle Kubat made his first appearance out of the bullpen when he came in to relieve Vogt in the fourth inning. He'd previously made two starts, going 0-0 with a 3.68 ERA. But with a three-game series and Tom Lemke scheduled to start Sunday, Kubat came out of the bullpen and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings.
***Former Bellevue University head coach Mike Evans is currently in his first year as an assistant coach at New Mexico State under Long. While at Bellevue Evans won 928 games and took the Bruins to 12 NAIA College World Series appearances over his 22 year tenure.