Quinn McGill finished his crash course in playing catcher just in time to help Nebraska when it needed him most.
The Huskers were in no trouble on the scoreboard Saturday, finishing with a 9-2 win against Penn State before 6,082 fans at Haymarket Park. The teams meet in the series finale Sunday at 11:05 a.m.
Pat Kelly and Austin Darby both homered for NU, and freshman Ryan Boldt had two hits and three RBIs, while Husker starter Aaron Bummer survived a wobbly fourth inning to get the win.
But McGill might have been the player of the game — somewhat by default.
The freshman from Wahoo, who had to ask Tanner Lubach what kind of catcher's mitt to pick out last fall, had been studying hard in his role behind the plate since starting catcher Lubach was sidelined by an ankle injury two weeks ago.
No problem until Lubach's backup, Taylor Fish, hurt his hamstring running to first base in the sixth inning Saturday, and McGill stepped in as a pinch runner. Then, in the top of the seventh, he squatted behind home plate for the first time as a Husker.
"Nerves, when they said, get in there to pinch run," McGill said. "I about forgot my mask when I came out of the bullpen. It was just exciting to get in there and play. Then, I'm in there in front of 6,000 fans and I run to back up first base on a fielder's choice like every catcher and the crowd cheers. We've got guys hitting two-out singles, home runs and they're cheering for a routine play.
"That was a big deal to me."
That was a big deal to Nebraska coach Darin Erstad, too.
He had no other choice. NU's top two catchers down, another out after surgery before the season started and a few other casualties last fall. That left Erstad with the former Journal Star Super-Stater McGill, who signed his letter of intent just three days after receiving a scholarship offer.
McGill said he was considering NCAA Division II schools until Erstad called.
"I thought, 'Yeah, money to play at Nebraska. OK,'" he said. "I didn't come here as a catcher, but I accepted the role. I've tried to learn the ways of being a catcher. (Lubach) has been a lot of help."
Erstad said Fish reinjured a hamstring that had bothered him earlier this year.
"Bring it on. Whatever. Quinn's going to be an athlete back there for us," Erstad said. "He's been working hard. Coach (Ted) Silva and Coach (Jeff) Christy have been very hands-on. Just go have fun and be an athlete. The guy's a competitor."
Lubach isn't expected back until next weekend at the earliest. Fish is day-to-day.
"We're going to find a way to get this done," Erstad said. "You make do."
The Huskers (31-17, 12-5) scored three runs in the first inning, with the aid of Darby's two-run blast to the right-field bullpen. Boldt hit a sacrifice fly to plate another run in the second, and Ben Miller, Fish and Boldt all singled in runs in the third to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Bummer, who pitched seven innings, struggled in the fourth when he hit a batter and walked the next three, all with two outs.
"To limit that to one run was important, because that could have gotten really ugly," Erstad said.
Bummer (5-3) said he couldn't describe his problem in the fourth.
"Not mental, not physical, just calm self down, take a breath and it seemed fine again," he said.
He allowed just two more baserunners in the next three innings.
"Funny game, baseball. When things like that happen, you try to let it go and move on."