It’s hard to say which pitching staff helped Nebraska more along the way in the 6-1 win over Michigan Saturday morning. Maybe it was the red-soaked, record-breaking crowd at TD Ameritrade Park. Either way, the Huskers advanced to the Sunday championship game with their third consecutive tournament win.
“I think from the first inning I knew Kyle was going to be good today,” catcher Tanner Lubach said. “The fastball was working for him and the changeup was moving. I guess you could say from an early point I had confidence for Kyle to go quite a way.”
Kyle Kubat threw one out shy of a complete game, but the Wolverine staff walked in three of five Husker runs in the sixth inning as Nebraska pulled away for the win.
Kubat’s efficiency stretched nearly the whole game, especially in the fist three innings when he averaged nine pitches per inning. His day ended after 8 and 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and a run. It was Kubat’s longest outing of the season, and said he felt better than he has all year. The first eight were shutout innings as the junior from Wahoo continually got ahead of Michigan batters.
“Baseball is a game of up and downs,” Kubat said. “You have to take them as they come, and right now, you just have to put that all aside and take it one game at a time.”
Kubat also set a new season high in strikeouts, fanning six Wolverines batters.
“Strike one is the key, staying ahead of hitters,” he said. “Once they get used to the fastball, you start mixing them off-speed. You just keep mixing it in and out, up and down, fast and slow.”
Nebraska broke the scoreboard seal in the fourth thanks to an RBI single from catcher Tanner Lubach after a pair of walks from Michigan starter Keith Lehmann put Pat Kelly into scoring position.
It was only a mild foreshadowing of the sixth inning however, when Nebraska plated five more runs with some help from the Michigan pitching staff.
The Wolverines got one of their three hits on the morning in the top of the inning, but couldn’t convert, leading up to Nebraska’s bat-around session. The scoring broke open after a pair of base hits from Pat Kelly and Blake Headley set up an RBI double from Austin Darby; Nebraska’s 10th of the tournament.
Darby finished the day with two hits after having just one base hit in the tournament before Saturday.
“Staying mentally prepared and not letting previous at-bats get you down, because that’s what kills you in baseball,” Darby said. “You have to have a short memory. Just keep grinding. That’s our team thing – just grind out every at-bat, and don’t take previous plays with you the next time.”
After Darby’s double, three bases-loaded walks and an RBI single from Jake Placzek gave Nebraska a six-run lead.
“We haven’t exactly torn the cover off the baseball,” Darin Erstad said. “In that particular inning, when you have 12,000 people screaming and you get to a 3-2 count, it’s hard to lay off pitches. It takes a lot of discipline, so our guys did a very nice job there. We mixed a couple of hits in, and it was a fantastic job by our boys.”
The 12,000 Erstad spoke of was actually 12,011 officially in attendance, breaking the Big Ten tournament record set by Nebraska two days earlier against Michigan State. That game wasn’t at 9 a.m., however.
“I never cease to be amazed by the support we get from Husker nation,” Erstad said. “At 9 o’clock in the morning, are you kidding me? It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Luke Bublitz came in for Nebraska’s final out in the ninth after Kubat plunked the leadoff batter Travis Maezes, who became the first Michigan baserunner past second base all game following a wild pitch and sacrifice fly. Another sacrifice fly scored Maezes for Michigan’s only run of the day, and Kubat’s last pitch.
Bublitz struck out Kendall Patrick looking, ending Michigan’s season and advancing the Huskers the the championship game.
“I had confidence to go back out there in the seventh and the eighth,” Kubat said. “Sitting in the dugout for that sixth inning, mentally you could have a little lapse. But I stayed focused throughout that inning and I put my team in a good position for tomorrow.”