Behind a dominant pitching performance by Kyle Kubat, Nebraska advanced to the Big Ten Baseball Championship Game with a 6-1 victory over Michigan in front of 12,011 on Saturday morning. Nebraska opened the scoring in the fourth when Tanner Lubach singled in Pat Kelly, who had reached base on a walk.
The Huskers broke the game wide open in the bottom of the 6th when Pat Kelly doubled with one out. That chased Michigan pitcher Keith Lehmann from the game, and ushered James Bourque from the bullpen. Blake Headley blooped a single to left field that barely advanced Kelly to third, then Austin Darby doubled to right center field to plate Kelly. After Tanner Lubach lined out to shortstop, the Merry-Go-Round began with two outs. Bourque grazed Ben Miller's arm to load the bases, then Steven Reveles walked to make it 3-0 Nebraska.
Ryan Boldt also walked, then Justin Placzek singled off of Michigan third baseman Jacob Cronenworth's glove to put Nebraska 5-0 with the bases still loaded. After Michael Pritchard walked to score the sixth run, Pat Kelly finished what he started by striking out.
From there, Kyle Kubat took command of the game with the big lead. Kubat did get wild to start the ninth, hitting Michigan shortstop Travis Maezes with his first pitch, then throwing to the backstop with his second. Two sacrifice flies to deep right field ended the shutout, and Kubat's day. Kubat's 105 pitches on the day was his longest effort of his career, and with the shutout gone, there wasn't any point in asking him to throw one more pitch. Luke Bublitz came in and struck out pinch hitter Kendall Patrick to finish the game and send the Huskers to the Big Ten Championship game.
Kubat went 8 2/3 innings, giving up just three hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. Head coach Darren Erstad said gave the credit for the victory for the game to Kubat:
"It starts on the mound... A tremendous performance on the mound"
Catcher Tanner Lubach recognized that Kubat was in good form, saying "From the first inning, I knew Kyle would be good today."
For his part, Kubat joked that he was "apparently the 9 am pitcher" for the team.
The early start apparently didn't affect Husker fans either, as they were ready to from the first pitch. Said Erstad:
"Never ceases to amaze me the support we get from Husker Nation. At 9 am in the morning? That's ridiculous. I asked Butch Hug before the game (about the crowd), and he said 'Oh they're coming.' "
After the game, Erstad made it clear that Chance Sinclair, who pitched three innings in Wednesday's start, would not pitch on Sunday. Christian DeLeon also won't pitch, although he did throw a couple dozen pitches earlier this week on the side. He wouldn't say who would start the game, though.
It was also clear that Indiana is on Nebraska's mind, even though the Huskers' opponent on Sunday hasn't been determined yet. Erstad called them a "national title contender".