Minneapolis – Nebraska senior Christian DeLeon went the distance for the second straight week on Saturday afternoon in a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, securing a series win for the Huskers, who are now 22-14 overall and 6-2 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska has won five straight conference games and will try to sweep its second straight Big Ten series tomorrow at 2:05 p.m. The Huskers last swept consecutive series since 2006, when took three games at Missouri and then returned home to sweep Texas A&M.
Following a complete game against the Ohio State Buckeyes last weekend in Lincoln, DeLeon became the first Husker pitcher to notch consecutive complete games since Erik Bird threw back-to-back complete games against New Mexico and Baylor during the 2009 season.
DeLeon allowed four hits on the afternoon, with only two coming after the second inning. The Richmond, Texas, native gave up a two-out solo home run to Bobby Juan in the second and then didn’t allow another hit until Jordan Smith hit a one-out double in the ninth. DeLeon retired the Gophers in order in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Seven Huskers combined for eight hits on the afternoon, including a pair of singles by Pat Kelly. After scoring all eight of their runs on Friday with two outs, the Huskers plated four of their five runs on Saturday with two down.
The Gophers took their first lead of the series in the second inning on a two-out homer by Bobby Juan. It could have been a two-run homer, but one batter earlier Tanner Lubach threw out Dan Olinger at second base after Olinger led off the inning with a single. It was Lubach’s seventh caught stealing in nine tries over the past seven games.
Nebraska got its leadoff batter on for the third straight inning in the top of the third, but just like the first two innings Minnesota starter Jordan Jess was able to strand the runner on base to keep the Huskers scoreless through three.
Jess walked Michael Pritchard and Kelly to start the fourth and unlike the previous three innings he was unable to get out of the frame without damage. Lubach laid down his sixth sacrifice bunt of the season and it immediately paid off when Austin Darby followed with a sacrifice fly that tied the game, 1-1. Jess then issued his third walk of the inning with a free pass to Ty Kildow, who quickly put himself in scoring position with his fourth stolen base of the year. Jess got ahead of Blake Headley 1-2 and was in position to get out of the inning with the game tied, but Headley hammed a two-RBI single into center field to put the Huskers on top, 3-1. Steven Reveles ended Jess’ day and dropped him to 0-6 on the year with a two-out single, forcing the Gophers to go to their bullpen after only 3.2 innings from their starter. Neal Kunik entered the game and ended the inning by getting Ryan Boldt to groundout.
Kunik kept the Gophers in the game by allowing a total of two hits in the fifth through eighth innings. After giving up a one-out single to Kelly in the fifth, Kunik retired eight straight Huskers before Kelly notched a one-out single in the eighth. The Gopher junior then retired Lubach and Darby in order to keep Minnesota within two runs, 3-1.
The Gophers offense was unable to get anything going against DeLeon thought, sending just three batters to the plate in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. After Juan’s two-out homer in the second, Deleon only allowed bases runners on a hit-by-pitch and a pair of walks heading into the ninth.
Kunik was on pace to notch his fifth scoreless inning of relief in the ninth after striking out Headley for the second out with the bases empty. But Reveles worked a walk and Boldt broke out of a 0-for-9 slump on the weekend with a RBI double off the right-field wall that scored Reveles from first base. Kevin Kray entered from the bullpen and was welcomed by a RBI single from Jake Placzek, giving DeLeon a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Facing the top of Minnesota’s order, DeLeon started the inning by registering his fourth strikeout of the game. Smith then delivered a double and after Tony Skjefte flew out to left, Olinger cut NU’s lead to 5-2 with a RBI double. The Gophers were unable to get the tying run to the plate though, as Michael Handel grounded out 1-3 to end the game.
The Huskers return to Siebert Field tomorrow for the series finale of their three-game series with the Gophers. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. and the game will be carried nationally on the Big Ten Network. Lane Grindle and Ben McLaughlin will have the radio call on the Husker Sports Network.