Minneapolis – It was a long and exciting day for the Nebraska baseball team at Target Field on Saturday, as the Huskers stayed alive at the Big Ten Tournament with a 5-0 win over Ohio State and then capped the night with a 7-6 win over the No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th inning by Tanner Lubach.
The Huskers and Hoosiers now meet again tomorrow at 12:05 p.m., with the winner taking the tournament title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Lubach entered the tournament as one of the Huskers’ hottest hitters, but was 0-for-16 in the tournament entering his at bat in the 11th. With a 1-1 count, the sophomore from Lincoln blasted a shot into the left-field seats for his second home run of the season. It was his first home run since hitting a solo shot in the season opener at CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 15.
Lubach’s heroics overshadowed Kash Kalkowski’s stellar night at the plate. The senior tied a career high with four hits, including a two-out two-run homer in the first and a double in the sixth. The Grand Island, native drove in four runs on the night, the sixth four-RBI game of his career.
Senior Dylan Vogt also gave the Huskers all he could in what could have been his last appearance as a Husker. In his first start of the season, Vogt lasted a career-high 7.0 innings on 68 pitches. It was the senior’s 30th appearance of the year, marking the first time a Husker pitcher has made 30 appearances in a season since 2005, when Brett Jensen took the mound 33 times.
The career-high 7.0 innings of work topped Vogt’s 5.0 innings of relief work against UCLA as a sophomore in 2011. He threw a season-high 68 pitches, trailing only his 82-pitch performance against Kansas State in 2011.
Nebraska took the game’s first lead on a pair of two-out hits from a pair of seniors. Chad Christensen picked up the Huskers’ first hit with a two-out single through the right side and scored two pitches later when Kalkowski blasted an 0-1 offering from Indiana starter Kyle Hart over the 377 sign in left-center field.
Josh Scheffert led off the second with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice from Austin Darby. Hart kept Scheffert from scoring though, striking out Lubach and Bryan Peters in order to end the threat.
Indiana’s potent offense responded in the top of the third with a two-run homer from Kyle Schwarber, his second of the tournament. With Will Nolden on base following a leadoff single, Schwarber just kept a 1-0 pitch from Vogt in fair territory, as his homer bounced off the left-field foul pole, tying the game 2-2.
Vogt got the first two outs of the fifth, but then had to face the top of Indiana’s lineup. Nolden reached on a single and Schwarber followed with another two-out single. Sam Travis stepped in and launched a three-run homer into the second deck in left field, giving the Hoosiers their first lead of the game, 5-2.
Nebraska cut into Indiana’s lead in the bottom of the sixth, as Indiana used four pitchers in the inning. Michael Pritchard led off with a single and moved to second on a throwing error by second baseman Nick Ramos. Reliever Luke Harrison took over and got Christensen to ground out on a tough call at first, but then gave up a RBI double to Kalkowski down the left-field line. Brian Korte entered the game for Indiana and was welcomed by Blake Headley, who drove in Kalkowski with a RBI single that cut IU’s lead to one, 5-4. After a fielder’s choice and a two-out single by Darby, Indiana brought in Scott Effross with a pair of Huskers on base and two down. The righty was able to end the inning, getting Lubach to fly out to right field.
The Huskers continued to fight and took the lead in the bottom of the seventh on three hits, including Kalkowski’s fourth of the game. With Effross still in the game, Peters led off with a single and Pat Kelly executed a hit-and-run, putting runners on the corners with no out. After Pritchard flew out, Christensen lined a ball down the third-base line that was gloved by Dustin DeMuth, but he couldn’t come up with the ball, allowing Peters to score the tying run and Christensen to reach. Kalkowski came calling with a RBI single that plated Kelly to put NU on top, 6-5. Effross was able to strand a pair of Huskers, getting a fielder’s choice off the bat of Headley and a fly out from pinch-hitter Rich Sanguinetti.
With Indiana’s 2-3-4 hitters due up in the eighth, Vogt took the mound and gave up a leadoff single to Schwarber. Sophomore Josh Roeder came in and calmed the waters, as he got Travis to pop out and induced a 6-4-3 double-play ball off the bat of Scott Donley.
Indiana would not go away though, tying the game, 6-6, in the top of the ninth with a pair of doubles. DeMuth doubled with one down to get the tying run on base and with two outs, Ricky Alfonso pinch hit against Roeder. Trailing 1-2 in the count, Alfonso snuck a double just inside the right-field line, scoring DeMuth. Roeder got Justin Cureton to pop out, sending the game into the bottom of the ninth, tied 6-6.
Nebraska got the game-winning run on base with a two-out double from Christensen. Kalkowski stepped in looking for fifth hit of the night, but it wasn’t meant to be, as he grounded out 5-3, moving the game to extra innings.
With the top of IU’s order up in the 10th, Roeder got two fly-ball outs, before Travis reached on a single and stole second to get into scoring position. Roeder didn’t let Travis move any farther, getting Donley to ground out, 6-3.
Headley led off the bottom of the 10th with a base hit and was replaced on base by pinch runner Ty Kildow. The junior tried to get in scoring position, but was caught stealing, 2-6. Reliever Ryan Halstead, who entered in the bottom of the ninth, retired Sanguinetti and Darby in order to end the NU 10th.
Luke Bublitz took the mound for the Huskers in the 11th and Indiana got its leadoff man on, as Michael Basil reached on a soft ground ball that Kelly couldn’t make a play on. Bublitz responded with three straight outs, setting the table for Lubach in the 11th.
After seeing a strike and a ball, Lubach got a fastball from Halstead, crushing it into the left-field seats.