Even NU coach Darin Erstad, who scripted his ideal plan before Friday’s game, couldn’t have anticipated the near-perfect set of circumstances that unfolded for the Huskers.
They held off Minnesota for a 7-4 season-extending win, but most importantly, they did it by using just three pitchers — the third, talented reliever Josh Roeder, threw only 11 pitches. Even Luke Bublitz wasn’t overworked, tossing 30 low-stress pitches in relief.
Not to mention the biggest gamble of the day paid off: Starting Ryan Hander instead of ace Christian DeLeon. Credit Hander (most pitches and longest outing since March 8) for making Erstad look like a baseball wizard.
“It set up well,” Erstad said. “I knew exactly it was a risky situation.”
Now the Huskers have to beat Ohio State, a team that’s won three straight over NU. The elimination game is at 3:35 p.m. Saturday (if Nebraska wins, it plays No. 1 seed Indiana at 7:05 p.m.). A look at the first match-up is below…
>> Husker pitchers better be ready for the stingy and savvy Buckeyes, who grind out at-bats and never quit on a scoring chance. Of the 18 runs OSU has scored against Nebraska this year, 10 were a result of two-out hits.
>> Junior Christian DeLeon made two mistakes in eight innings of work against Ohio State earlier this year. Both pitches were deposited behind the outfield fence (courtesy of Brad Hallberg and the now-injured Ryan Cypret). Home runs have been DeLeon’s weakness — he’s surrendered six in 45 1/3 Big Ten innings. But he’s pitched into the sixth inning in 11 of his 13 starts this year, which would be big for Nebraska Saturday.
>> Ohio State is expected to go with Jaron Long, who’s been its No. 1 starter all year. He’s had a few rough outings, including April 12 at Nebraska. The junior right-hander likes to establish his pitches on the outside part of the strike zone, but that’s exactly where the Husker hitters feel most comfortable. They had 13 hits (10 up the middle or to the opposite field) in 4 1/3 innings against him. One would expect Long to make an extra effort to attack inside Saturday afternoon.
>> Nebraska’s scored 11 runs in its three losses against the Buckeyes. Here’s why: The Huskers are hitting .258 with runners in scoring position; their leadoff man has reached to start 12 different innings, yet scored only five times; and they’ve hit into five double plays. In the last 29 innings against OSU, the Huskers have had at least one runner on base in 22 of those. But again, only 11 runs to show for it. … So in other words, NU needs better execution of its offense and more clutch hitting.
>> Technically, Ohio State is reeling, but you wouldn’t know it by the players’ approach. They don’t appear to be lacking for confidence. But the Buckeyes are just 3-9 since May 7.