Darin Erstad’s Nebraska squad wrapped up a key Big Ten series yesterday afternoon.
The Huskers swept a doubleheader against Ohio State to win their first road conference series since April 2008 when they wrapped up a doubleheader in Waco, Texas against Baylor.
When Nebraska took the field Friday night at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus, they did so in style.
A new weekend starter was on the mound in Tyler King and the Huskers trotted out in out black jerseys. They hadn’t done that since assistant head coach Will Bolt was on the base paths and now-Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn was in the Husker coaching box.
Ohio State greeted the Huskers rudely, ending both the game and Tyler King’s night by posting a seven-run first inning with only one out recorded. The Huskers lost 10-2, as sophomore Jaron Long used the cushion to go the distance in a nine-inning, eight-hit, two-earned run performance.
The flurry of Buckeye runs in the first inning was followed by stormy conditions on Saturday causing the game to be postponed.
The early game on Sunday was a back-and-forth affair in which the Huskers relied on the long ball.
Nebraska struck first with two runs in the top of the second thanks to a two-out, two-run home run from outfielder Kale Kiser. Kiser went 3-for-3 at the dish and also reached after being hit by a pitch.
The Buckeyes responded quickly, tagging starter Brandon Pierce for three runs in the second and a fourth run in the third on a Josh Scheffert error.
The Huskers returned the favor in the fifth, when Rich Sanguinetti was hit by a pitch and Kash Kalkowski stepped up with another two-run home run for the Big Red to tie the game at four runs.
Scheffert led off the eighth inning with a third home run. This marked the third time this year that Nebraska has knocked three home runs out of the park in a single game, a feat only accomplished once in 2011.
The Huskers couldn’t add any more insurance before the Buckeyes put the pressure on Dylan Vogt in the eighth inning and Travis Huber in the ninth with baserunners and hot-hitters up in both situations. The Nebraska bullpen defended the lead for a 5-4 win.
That victory flipped the weekend. Thirty minutes later in game two of the doubleheader, Nebraska issued payback for the first inning of Friday’s game. The Huskers blasted Ohio State starter John Kuchno for seven runs in the fourth inning.
The first seven Huskers reached before Ohio State recorded an out, though the Buckeyes committed three errors and hit two Big Red batters.
Scheffert hit his third home run in as many games, going 3-for-6 and driving in seven runs in the rout.
Starter Zach Hirsch turned in another solid performance from the Sunday slot allowing seven hits and two runs across six innings while improving to 4-2 on the season.
Nebraska continued to pad its lead with another five runs in the fifth inning and three scores in the ninth.
This effort ended up being necessary as Ohio State grabbed seven more runs of their own off of Jon Keller and Luke Bublitz who followed Hirsch in relief.
It was a huge victory for the Huskers who seized the momentum and turned the series in their favor. The wins no doubt provided extra confidence as they turn their attention to conference leader Purdue, a top 20 team coming off a sweep of Illinois.
Nebraska is currently three games back of the Boilermakers due to their 3-3 record against Illinois and Northwestern. The Boilers swept both squads.
AROUND THE B1G
No. 19 Purdue – 10-2 (28-5)
Minnesota – 6-3 (20-17)
Nebraska – 7-5 (25-13)
Michigan State – 5-4 (22-12)
Ohio State – 6-6 (21-14)
Indiana – 6-6 (16-20)
Iowa – 4-5 (15-16)
Penn State – 4-5 (15-20)
Illinois – 3-6 (18-16)
Michigan – 3-6 (16-21)
Northwestern – 3-9 (10-22)
As previously mentioned, Purdue swept defending Big Ten champion Illinois to improve to a league-best 10-2. At their current pace, Purdue seems like a strong candidate to host an NCAA regional. A national seed will be tough with their RPI, but they have a chance to make some noise in their upcoming series against UCLA.
Michigan State bounced back from their series loss at Michigan to win a Sunday doubleheader at Indiana. The Spartans dropped the first game 3-2 before pummeling the Hoosiers 6-0 in game one on Sunday and 20-10 in game two.
Minnesota did what Nebraska couldn’t in sweeping the Northwestern Wildcats. The Gophers allowed only two runs over 27 innings of work (2-1, 2-1, 6-0) while propelling themselves to second place in the league. They did drop a midweek game to South Dakota State, however.
Penn State hosted Michigan, and while the Nittany Lions dropped the first game 7-3, they won both Saturday and Sunday’s contest by scores of 14-1 and 6-4, respectively.
Iowa played only non-conference games this past week. The Hawkeyes defeated Western Illinois 8-7 on Tuesday before getting in only one game at TD Ameritrade Park against South Dakota State, a 6-1 victory. Their scheduled game against Creighton was cancelled.
Nebraska finished the weekend in third place heading into the potentially season-changing series against Purdue.
That said, the series loss to league bottom-dweller Northwestern continues to become a darker stain on the Huskers’ record by the week and gravely hurts their chances to catch the surging Boilermakers.
- Josh Scheffert made a huge case for Big Ten player of the Week, going 7-of-14 with three home runs (one in each game), a double and 10 RBIs on the weekend.
- Richard Stock had a fine showing during the doubleheader going 5-for-10 with two RBIs and a walk. He heated up going into the second game against the Buckeyes after a 1-for-5 opener.
- Kale Kiser didn’t start on Friday, but made the most of his at-bats this weekend going 4-for-6 with two RBIs. He reached four additional times on two HBP and two walks.
- Kyle Kubat recorded a nice relief effort on Friday to chew up some innings as he pitched three full frames while only allowing three hits and striking out a trio of Buckeyes. Luke Bublitz finished the Friday game with one perfect inning.
- Brandon Pierce was mostly effective in his 104-pitch, 5.2-inning start in Sunday’s first game.
While allowing six hits and five walks, he only allowed four runs while striking out four. He provided Ohio State with too many baserunners, but managed to avoid the big inning.
- Dylan Vogt and Travis Huber saved Nebraska’s weekend with 3.1 innings of work, allowing only three hits.
Vogt earned the win to improve to 2-1 on the season while Huber earned his first save. The final two innings of Sunday’s first game were easily some of the most tense this season.
- The Huskers are hitting .317 on the year compared to .270 last season. They are also scoring 7.7 runs per game compared to 5.4 in 2011.
- Eight players who see regular time are hitting over .315 at this point of the season. Kale Kiser is the outlier hitting only .237, but is one of Nebraska’s best at reaching base (.452).
- While the offense has improved in 2012, pitching hasn’t. The ERA is a similar 4.00 at this point in 2012 versus 3.98 in 2011, but opponents are hitting .285 against Nebraska this year compared to .268 last season. The Huskers are issuing just over three and a half walks per game this season.
- The latest Friday starter, Tyler King, saw his ERA balloon to 7.13 after his third of an inning in Columbus. It’ll be interesting to see how Nebraska approaches the rotation against a dangerous Purdue lineup.
- Meanwhile, Brandon Pierce continues to lower his ERA, sitting at a solid 2.83.
Closer Travis Huber has a 2.89 while Kyle Kubat, Dylan Vogt, Aaron Bummer and Ryan Hander round out the club of Huskers under 3.00. The next best ERA is Tom Lemke at 3.93. It’s clear the Huskers are short on reliable options.
- Nebraska’s WHIP is up to 1.51. This appears to be a symptom of the change in philosophy from a strikeout team to pitch-to-contact.
It may be too late to correct the issue in 2012 which will ultimately cap this team’s potential, but expect future classes and additional coaching to lower this number greatly as pitching coach Ted Silva continues to work with the staff.
- The fielding percentage of .976 is nearly unchanged from last season.
- There is no midweek opponent on the schedule before the Huskers take on Purdue allowing both rest and the full pitching staff to be ready to take on the Top 20 team from West Lafayette.
Game One is scheduled for 6:35 on Friday and will be aired on NET and the Big Ten Network.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 2:35 and Sunday’s first pitch has been moved up to 12:05 to accommodate Purdue’s travel schedule.