Ten innings ago, it looked like Nebraska was in for a disappointing weekend at the Metrodome.
After getting locked down by West Virginia ace Corey Walter in a 4-1 loss in game one of the Dairy Queen Classic, the Husker Hardballers found themselves down 4-2 to the New Mexico State Aggies after eight innings.
It appeared to be a losing weekend, but somehow Michael Pritchard led off with a single before then scoring on a Richard Stock double.
The replacement runner, Blake Headley, moved to third on an Austin Darby sacrifice, and pinch hitting Kash Kalkowski drove a two-strike pitch through the right side to tie the game. Two batters later, Rich Sanguinetti hit a two-out, two-run walk-off home run to win the game 6-2 for the Huskers.
Talk about dramatics! The Huskers then rolled new conference brother Minnesota 10-3 in a technical non-conference game.
Nebraska ended the series in a three way tie with West Virginia and Minnesota, the Golden Gophers winning the tournament with a run differential of plus-seven over the Huskers’ plus-six.
Darin Erstad’s team almost stole the trophy thanks to their three-run ninth against Minnesota, but scoring one less run cost them.
After blowing two ninth inning leads in weekend one, Nebraska has now completed two ninth-inning comebacks in the last two weekends.
There is a moxie to this team that is starting to grow, confidence is beginning to set in, and you get the feeling they know they can come back from anything.
Credit the coaching staff for continuing to shape this team. The offense still has some questions to answer. Against West Virginia, the Huskers only had six hits.
Against New Mexico State’s starter, they could only muster seven before roughing up the Aggies’ closer for four runs on four hits in the pivotal ninth inning.
The power and scary hitting threats a team wants to see simply aren’t there. What is impressive, however, is how quickly the Husker pitching staff seems to be coming along. Working 12.2 innings this weekend, the bullpen allowed just two meaningless runs against Minnesota.
The starting pitching results were more mixed. Friday started Zach Hirsch gave up four earned runs in seven innings, and Saturday starter Jon Keller surrendered four runs of his own in 1.1 innings.
Tom Lemke did well, earning his first win of the season. He threw five solid innings and only allowed one run while only throwing 56 pitches.
Only having one defensive error over the weekend was another encouraging sign and a solid improvement over the last two weeks.
While Nebraska still has questions about where the hitting will wind up this season, the pitching staff seems to be in excellent hands with pitching coach Ted Silva. If the Huskers can continue to improve, the bullpen could be pretty formidable down the stretch.
Nebraska placed three players on the All-Tournament team, including Richard Stock at first base, Austin Darby in the outfield, and Mike Pritchard as the designated hitter. Pritchard also won the Silver Stick award, which goes to the most valuable hitter.
The Big Red was the only club able to knock off tournament champs Minnesota this past weekend. The Gophers handed West Virginia its only loss of the tournament. The New Mexico State Aggies went 0-3 on the weekend.
Richard Stock doubled in all three games, playing first base in two games before getting his second double as a pinch hitter against New Mexico State in the crucial ninth.
Skipper Darin Erstad made five moves during the ninth-inning comeback against Aggies – he pinch hit Pritchard, Stock and Kalkowski along with pinch running Blake Headley and Corey Burleson. All three hitters recorded hits, and both runners scored during the decisive inning.
Pritchard ended the weekend six of nine, with two walks and three RBIs. He was caught stealing twice, however.
While Kale Kiser has had a slow start at the plate this year (.161), he is getting on base at nearly a 40 percent clip with a .395 OBP. Tyler Kildow has substituted in the leadoff spot for Kiser twice, and while hitless, also carries a nearly .400 OBP.
Pritchard leads Huskers with over 20 at-bats with a .444 average, Stock trails him with a .424. Chad Christensen sits just under the 400 mark with a .390.
After coming back from surgery, Lemke currently holds a team starter best 2.45 ERA. Kyle Kubat is at a 3.00, with Zach Hirsch following at a 3.57. Jon Keller’s rough outing dropped him to a 4.61 ERA on the season.
As a team, the Huskers are batting .319 and the team ERA sits at 3.84 after 10 games of action. As the old saying goes, day by day, Nebraska appears to be getting better and better.