Nebraska was living the dream with pitching, but Tanner Lubach found the reality with his walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Huskers a 7-6 victory against No. 11 Indiana on Saturday night in Minneapolis.
The Huskers (29-29) moved to 4-1 in the Big Ten Tournament with the win and will face the Hoosiers (42-14) again at noon Sunday for the tourney title. Kyle Kubat (5-0) will start for the Huskers.
Indiana will likely get a bid to the NCAA Tournament no matter the outcome, but Nebraska needs a win to keep its season alive.
Lubach gave his mother, Laura, a big birthday present when he lifted his first home run since the season opener, a hit that also broke his 0-for-the-tournament slump.
“Leading off an inning, I just wanted to get on base, and I got ahold of one and put it out and ended the game,” said Lubach, a sophomore from Lincoln Southwest. “I was getting anxious not getting a hit in the tournament and I’m starting to press, so I thought I’ve got nothing to lose and put a good swing on it.”
His swing and home run keep the Huskers alive for another day.
“I would tell you I’m surprised, but I’m not,” Husker coach Darin Erstad said. “It’s a pleasure to watch them play.”
The Huskers faced elimination against Minnesota on Friday, then against Ohio State on Saturday afternoon, but Nebraska beat the Gophers and rode the pitching arm of Christian DeLeon, just back from an injury, to a 5-0 victory against the Buckeyes.
That set up a championship game — for Indiana, which had won its first two games of the tourney — and another do-or-die contest for the Huskers.
NU started Dylan Vogt, who had been a reliever all year, against Indiana, the Big Ten regular-season champion.
The Huskers jumped to a 2-0 lead on a two-run home run by Kash Kalkowski in the first inning, but the Hoosiers returned the favor when Kyle Schwarber, the leading home-run hitter in the Big Ten, smacked his 16th homer of the season with a runner on.
Indiana then took a 5-2 lead when Sam Travis ripped a three-run homer in the fifth.
Nebraska rallied for two runs on four hits, including run-scoring singles by Kalkowski, who had four hits and four RBIs, and Blake Headley in the sixth. The Huskers tied the game when Bryan Peters reached on an infield hit and eventually scored on an error. Pat Kelly singled, advanced on the error and scored on another single by Kalkowski to put Nebraska ahead.
Indiana tied the game in the ninth when Dusty DeMuth led off with a double and pinch hitter Ricky Alfonzo hit a two-out double.
“We talk about the fight in this team and getting over the hump and we could have folded up the tent, but we didn’t and I’m really proud of these guys,” Erstad said. “Vogt, the other seniors (Kalkowski, Chad Christensen and Peters), I talk to them a lot about what are you going to write in your last chapter of your college life? What will that look like? They want success to be the story.”
As for Lubach’s home run, “If you’re going to pull off the ball and not go to the 'oppo' gap, then that’s a good thing to do,” Erstad said. “He’s been struggling, but with that home run, he can keep doing that.”
In Saturday's first game, DeLeon pitched his best game of the year. The junior right-hander said the key was his fastball.
“Just locating my fastball is what got me through today’s game,” DeLeon said. “Staying in and out of the zone and staying down towards the end of the game. I knew I didn’t have my best stuff, so I just tried to compete the whole game.”
DeLeon allowed just five hits through eight innings. He walked the leadoff batter in the ninth and freshman reliever Jeff Chesnut finished off the Buckeyes.
Ohio State, which beat Nebraska 3-2 in the second round Thursday, threatened in the first when Joe Ciamacco walked and reached third on an errant pickoff throw by DeLeon. But Ciamacco was stranded. In the third, Jacob Bosiokovic led off with a double and Tim Wetzel followed with a bunt single. The Huskers got the next three batters — the top of the order — out.
OSU stranded Ryan Cypret after a leadoff double in the sixth.
“I kept asking Christian, ‘How you doin'?’ and he just smiled,” Erstad said. “I tried to give him some grief by saying I don’t care about the game, I care about you. He begged for me to leave him out there in the ninth, and I said, ‘At least get somebody out.’”
Nebraska scored all the runs it needed in the fourth when Headley doubled in two runs after Michael Pritchard singled in the first run of the game. The Huskers added two more runs in the eighth when Rich Sanguinetti and Kelly singled and Christensen followed with a two-run single.
NEBRASKA 5, OHIO STATE 0
|Sanguinetti dh||4||2||2||0||Ciamacco cf||2||0||0||0|
|Kelly 2b||4||1||2||0||Cypret dh||4||0||1||0|
|Pritchard lf||3||1||1||1||Pellant ss||4||0||0||0|
|Christensen rf||2||0||1||2||Hallberg 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Kalkowski 1b||4||1||1||0||Carroll rf||4||0||1||0|
|Headley 3b||4||0||1||2||Kuhn 2b||4||0||0||0|
|Lubach c||4||0||0||0||Gretz c||3||0||0||0|
|Darby cf||3||0||1||0||Bosiokovic 3b||3||0||2||0|
|Peters ss||4||0||0||0||Wetzel lf||3||0||1||0|
E--DeLeon (1). DP--Nebraska 1, OSU 3. LOB--Nebraska 4, OSU 6. 2B--Sanguinetti (8), Headley (6), Cypret (8), Bosiokovic (7). SH--Pritchard (11), Ciamacco (5).
|DeLeon W 7-4||8.0||5||0||0||2||3|
|Long L 6-7||7.0||5||3||3||1||3|
HBP--by Long (Christensen); by Long (Christensen). WP--DeLeon (6). T--2:20.