The Huskers lost to a bad opponent last Tuesday night when they fell 8-1 to Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park. The weekend-long rebound was impressive though, as Nebraska swept the series and won the first two games of a conference series for the first time since the final weekend of 2010′s regular season.
That’s not to say the Huskers blew out Minnesota. Despite going 4-0 on the season against the Huskers, the final three game series resulted in three one-run wins for Nebraska. Crowds at Haymarket Park for Parents’ Day and Senior Day saw Nebraska retain its position in the Big Ten conference race. The Huskers appear ready to finally return to the conference post-season
This weekend’s rotation shake-up was perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the series. Freshman lefty Kyle Kubat continued to be the ace of the rotation after earning series-opening wins against Cal State Bakersfield and Indiana.
Kubat rewarded the faith of skipper Darin Erstad and pitching coach Ted Silva with six innings of six-hit ball, allowing three unearned runs while walking one and striking out three to earn the win in a 4-3 victory.
Dylan Vogt finished the game by facing the minimum over the final three innings to earn the save, while only allowing one hit.
The only disappointment on Friday was the end of designated hitter Michael Pritchard’s 25-game hitting streak.
The new-look pitching rotation seemed to settle in on Saturday as Ryan Hander took the mound for the Huskers and allowed just three runs over five innings. Unfortunately, Tyler Niederklein blew the lead, allowing four runs in just 0.2 innings of work.
Tyler King worked out of the jam and normal Saturday starter Brandon Pierce repeated Vogt’s feat, facing just nine batters over the final three innings in a 8-7 Husker win.
Pat Kelly impressed from the leadoff spot going 4-for-5 with two RBIs and hitting his seventh home run of the season to tie Alex Gordon’s freshman record.
Erstad moved away from normal Sunday starter Zach Hirsch to go with Dexter Spitsnogle who threw 3.1 innings of 2-run ball.
Luke Bublitz earned the win in relief, while Vogt recorded his second save of the weekend in a 6-5 triumph. The Huskers were powered by homers from Chad Christensen, Austin Darby and Kale Kiser to grab the early lead.
The sweep remarkably improved Nebraska’s position in the B1G standings, driving the Huskers from No. 7 in the conference into a tie for No. 4 with Michigan State.
Nebraska now heads into the regular season’s final week, hosting Wichita State in the Haymarket Park finale on Tuesday before traveling to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in their final conference series.
AROUND THE B1G
1. Purdue – 16-5 (39-10) - (Last Week: 1st)
2. Indiana – 13-8 (26-26) – 3 games back – (LW: 2nd )
Penn State – 13-8 (27-24) – 3 games back – (LW: Tied for 3rd)
4. Michigan State – 12-9 (32-17) – 4 games back – (LW: Tied for 3rd)
Nebraska – 12-9 (32-19) – 4 games back – (LW: Tied for 7th)
6. Ohio State – 11-10 (30-22) – 5 games back (LW: 6th)
7. Minnesota – 10-11 (28-25) – 6 games back – (LW: Tied for 3rd)
8. Illinois – 9-12 (26-24) – 7 games back – (LW: Tied for 7th)
—– TEAMS BELOW ELIMINATED FROM TOURNAMENT CONTENTION
9. Iowa – 8-13 (20-28) – 8 games back (LW: 9th)
Michigan – 8-13 (21-31) – 8 games back (LW: 10th)
11. Northwestern – 6-18 (17-33) – 11.5 games back (LW: 11th)
The Purdue Boilermakers clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, as well as the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Ten tournament with its Friday and Saturday wins over Michigan, but the Wolverines managed to pull the Sunday upset.
Indiana missed an opportunity to sweep bottom-dweller Northwestern, only winning 2-of-3 games and leaving a small window for advancement in the conference standings.
Meanwhile, Penn State swept Illinois to tie Indiana’s Big Ten record and seriously jeopardize Illinois’ chance to defend its conference crown in the Big Ten tourney.
Michigan State took two of three from Iowa, but still slipped from No. 3 to No. 4. The Buckeyes of Ohio State won two of three in a non-conference series against Seattle University.
With last-place Northwestern idle, a fascinating final week of B1G hardball is upon us. Only the top six teams qualify for the tournament, and eight still have realistic chances of finishing in that tier.
Of those eight teams, No. 7 Minnesota plays No. 8 Illinois, No. 2 Indiana battles No. 6 Ohio State and No. 2 Penn State goes against No. 4 Michigan State. Big Ten bruiser Purdue plays a seemingly harmless No. 9 Iowa squad .
The scheduling hugely favors Nebraska. Of the top six teams, the four not named Purdue or Nebraska are assured to finish a combined 6-6.
Two wins against Michigan this weekend will guarantee the Huskers postseason play for the first time since 2008. A sweep would give Nebraska a shot at the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and a highly-coveted day-one bye. Even a one-win weekend could still result in Nebraska playing beyond their regular season schedule.
Hold onto your hats as this year’s Big Ten tournament seeding looks to come down to a photo finish.
Despite recent pitfalls, there’s good news for Nebraska fans – The Huskers have a great shot to find themselves in Columbus, Ohio to play for an NCAA tournament appearance.