Aaron Bummer has never pitched better, and the Nebraska bats have never been hotter than Friday night in a 9-6 victory against Michigan before 5,503 fans at Haymarket Park.
The result means the Huskers can finish no worse than third in the Big Ten regular-season standings and still have a shot at a top-two seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament. For that to happen, the Huskers must win Saturday's regular-season finale and have Indiana defeat Ohio State.
NU also has a chance to tie Ohio State and Indiana for the conference title with a win and an Ohio State win, but in that scenario, the Huskers would become the tournament's third seed, since OSU and the Hoosiers each have winning records against Nebraska. Only the top two teams earn first-round byes in the tournament.
Bummer, a sophomore left-hander, became a starter just a month ago. He's been steady, but was rocked by Indiana two weeks ago.
"I'm so proud of the way he bounced back from that game to pitch well at Minnesota and was outstanding tonight," NU coach Darin Erstad said. "He has a God-given gift to throw the ball down the middle and have it run to the arm-side (left) and dive. It is something you don't see and guys have a tough time getting the bat behind the ball."
Bummer wasn't sure about the "gift," but added: "Part of being left-handed is that something funky happens to my fastball. Two weeks ago, I had no idea where it was going. I've learned to trust it will run or dive."
The Huskers appeared to be on cruise control Friday.
Bummer was in command through seven innings. He allowed just one earned run while his teammates pummeled the Wolverines for 16 hits and a 9-2 lead.
The Huskers scored in a wide variety of ways.
Second baseman Pat Kelly drove a three-run home run over the left-field fence in NU's five-run second inning. He doubled and scored in the two-run fourth.
Austin Darby struck out but reached first on a passed ball. He advanced and eventually scored on back-to-back bunts by Bryan Peters and Rich Sanguinetti in the second.
Michael Pritchard, who follows Kelly in the order, had three singles and an RBI. Kash Kalkowski, Blake Headley and red-hot Tanner Lubach each had two hits.
Lubach, a sophomore from Lincoln Southwest, has raised his average from .216 to .268, picked up 13 hits in 22 at-bats and driven in 10 runs in his last five games.
"Warm weather — the ball carries better in warm weather," Kelly said. "I had a lot of popups last night (a 7-5 NU loss) and I got back to a flat swing and driving the ball. We're picking each other up at the plate and we're locked in."
The only question is, can Nebraska find enough relief pitching to finish off the Wolverines in Saturday's 12:05 p.m. rubber game.
Despite Bummer's showing, Husker relievers Michael Hoppes and Tyler King couldn't get an out in the eighth inning. Michigan's Michael O'Neill crushed a grand slam before NU closer Josh Roeder entered the game to stop the threat of another Wolverine rally for a win. Michigan trailed 5-2 Thursday night before rallying against Nebraska's relief pitching.
NEBRASKA 9, MICHIGAN 6
|Biondi 2b||4||1||2||0||Sanguinetti cf||4||2||1||1|
|O'Neill cf||4||1||1||4||Kelly 2b||5||2||3||3|
|Maezes ss||3||0||0||0||Pritchard dh||4||1||3||1|
|Cronenworth 3b||3||1||1||0||Christensen lf||5||0||1||1|
|Zott lf||4||1||1||0||Kalkowski 1b||4||1||2||1|
|White rf||4||0||0||0||Headley 3b||4||1||2||0|
|Jusick 1b||3||0||0||1||Lubach c||2||0||2||1|
|Martin c||4||1||2||0||Darby rf||4||1||1||0|
|DiLaura dh||3||1||0||0||Peters ss||4||1||1||1|
E--Hill (3); Lubach (2). DP-- Michigan 1, Nebraska 1. LOB--Michigan 4, Nebraska 8. 2B--Biondi (8); Kelly (9), Pritchard (13). HR--O'Neill (5); Kelly (1). SH--Jusick (4); Lubach (5). SF--Pritchard (2). SB--Cronenwoth (11), Zott (18); Kelly (5); Pritchard (4). CS--Christens (2).
|Hill, L (7-3)||3.0||9||7||6||0||3|
|Bummer, W (3-1)||7.0||4||2||1||1||3|
|Roeder, S (5)||2.0||1||0||0||1||4|
HBP--by Hill (Kalkowski); by Hill (Sanguinetti); by Hoppes (DiLaura). T--3:01. A--5,503.