NCAA BASEBALL: APR 16 Arkansas at Nebraska

Huskers hoping to avoid letdown after Arkansas sweep

“When you really notice it is the midweek games, when you miss some school and people have make-up tests and they’re sprinting to the bus. There’s a lot of distractions and it’s my job to make sure that they’re locked in when they get there.”

That was Nebraska coach Darin Erstad talking a couple of weeks ago about the Huskers’ struggles in mid-week games. At the time, Nebraska (16-19, 8-4) was just 2-4 in mid-week games and the coach was admitting that, partly due to injury and partly through design, the team was putting most of its eggs in the weekend series basket.

That made Nebraska’s sweep of a double header with No. 10 Arkansas on Tuesday more than a mild surprise.

The Razorbacks — with the architect of the modern Nebraska baseball program, Dave Van Horn, at the helm — entered the game as one of the best pitching teams in the country. But it was the Nebraska staff that stole the show.

In the first game, starter Kyle Kubat combined with Tyler Niederklein and Dylan Vogt out of the bullpen to no-hit Arkansas in the 3-0 win. It was the Huskers first no-hitter since 1993.

Game two wasn’t much different as six Nebraska pitchers allowed just two hits and stranded 10 Arkansas runners over the course of the game. Blake Headley’s pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning gave Nebraska its first lead of the game and sparked a three-run inning. Reliever Josh Roeder gave up one run in the ninth, but still picked up the save in the 4-2 win.

The difference between the two results on Tuesday and the Huskers’ previous mid-week struggles was striking.

“I told our guys, ‘I’ll give you the bad news first: Now you’re just shown me what you’re capable of in a mid-week game.’ We were inconsistent a couple of times down in Kansas State but (tonight) our guys played pretty good baseball,” Erstad said. “That’s the expectation.

“On the good side of it, I’m proud of our boys. They came out and battled through some tough weather. A doubleheader at home. A lot of them came right from classes. Some guys had presentations. They came right over here and they just competed for 18 innings.”

Kubat, a freshman All-American last year who has been battling a shoulder injury, was on a strict pitch count in his first start of the season. But he made the most out of the 60 pitches he got, going five complete innings, striking out three and walking only one.

“I don’t think I threw a single curveball, it was all fastball-change up,” Kubat said. “Fastball in, change up away and, to put them away, change up down.”

A pretty simple approach for what spurred perhaps the two biggest wins of the Erstad era. The head coach was careful to point out that he doesn’t totally buy the idea of big wins and momentum, but was willing to admit that beating the well-respected Razorbacks could help the players down the road.

“Now our guys have been there,” he said. “They’ve beaten a ranked team like that. They’ve been in a tight game and found a way to get it done. The more experiences you have and have success in those situations, the more confident you can be when you’re in them again. If anything, we have to be careful of a letdown.”

The Huskers travel to Purdue (11-22, 4-8) for a three game series this weekend before taking a break from Big Ten play to participate in the TD Ameritrade Classic in Omaha. Nebraska will face Creighton (Apr. 26), Oklahoma State twice (Apr. 27), and Rutgers (Apr. 28) at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, home of the College World Series. Nebraska also hosts Kansas State on Tuesday, Apr. 23.