Kelly, Pierce Lead Huskers to Series Win
Lincoln - A home run off the bat of freshman Pat Kelly propelled the Nebraska baseball team (31-19, 11-9 Big Ten) to victory for the second straight game over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (28-24, 10-10 Big Ten), as the Huskers held on to a 8-7 win at Hawks Field on Saturday afternoon. After dropping a two-run homer in the series opener last night, Kelly broke a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning on a solo shot into the right-field bullpen. Brandon Pierce then came into the game and retired nine straight Gophers to pick up his second save of the season.
Batting in the leadoff spot for just the third time this season, Kelly led the Huskers with a career-high four hits in five at bats. His seven home runs this season are the most by a NU freshman since Alex Gordon hit seven in 2003.
The Huskers are now tied with Michigan State for fourth in the Big Ten standing, while Penn State and Indiana are each one-game ahead and tied for second with 12-8 records. Ohio State sits sixth in the standing (11-10), while the Gophers are on the outside looking in with a 10-10 record. Purdue secured at least a share of the Big Ten title today with its 14-3 win over Michigan.
The Husker hitters knocked around Minnesota's starter for the second straight game, as DJ Snelton lasted just 3.2 innings after giving up seven runs, all earned, on eight hits, both of which tied career highs against Snelton.
All but one starter in NU's lineup recorded a hit, while the first four hitters accounted for five RBI's and Cory Burleson knocked in a pair of runs from the 9-hole with a bases-loaded double in the fourth.
Speaking the fourth, the Huskers continued to light up opposing pitching with a seven-run fourth on Saturday and have now outscored their opponents 79-17 in the fourth inning this season. After Kash Kalkowski was retired to start the inning, Richard Stock, Josh Scheffert and Rich Sanguinetti each slapped singles to load the bases. Kale Kiser then drew a four-pitch walk to score NU's first run of the game and tie the contest at 1-1. Burleson followed with his RBI double and Kelly singled to put runners on the corners with one out and Michael Pritchard up. The Huskers kept the pressure up with a squeeze that scored Burleson and Pritchard reached first. Associate Head Coach Will Bolt then dialed up a double steal from the third-base coaching box, giving NU runners at second and third with still only one down and Chad Christensen at the plate. The move paid off, as Christensen delivered his 45th RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly that scored Kelly from third. Pritchard scored the seventh run of the inning on a double by Kalkowski in his second at bat of the inning.
Trailing 7-1 going into the sixth, the Gophers came storming back with six runs on six hits. With only one run across and two out, Bobby Juan drew a walk to put runners at first and second for No. 7 hitter Michael Handel. UM strung together four straight hits, including two doubles, to tie the game at 7-7 going to the bottom of the frame.
After Burleson popped out to start the inning, Kelly lifted a 2-1 pitch off Dustin Klabunde into the visitor's bullpen to put the Huskers back out in front 8-7. Pierce entered the game in relief for the first time since March 31 and mowed down the Gophers, including a pair of strikeouts looking in the ninth, to secure a series win for the Huskers.
The Huskers are now in position to sweep their first Big Ten series tomorrow when the two teams meet at 1:05 p.m. at Hawks Field. NU is yet to announce its starting pitcher, while Minnesota is scheduled to throw senior righty Austin Lubinsky.
The Huskers have already faced Lubinsky this season, when the two teams met at the Dairy Queen Classic on March 4 at the Metrodome. Lubinsky went just 3.0 innings in the 10-3 loss, as he gave up seven runs on 10 hits.