Nebraska was three games under .500 entering the Big Ten baseball tournament. Now, the Cornhuskers are one win from a championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tourney.
Nebraska continued its improbable climb Saturday at Target Field, defeating second-seeded Ohio State 5-0 and then besting top-seeded Indiana in a 7-6, 11-inning thriller.
The Indiana game was filled with big hits and momentum shifts. Nebraska overcame a 5-2 deficit and blew a 6-5 lead with the Hoosiers down to their final strike.
Leading off the 11th inning, sophomore catcher Tanner Lubach won it with a walk-off homer into the left-field seats. It was Lubach's first hit in 17 tournament at-bats.
The third-seeded Cornhuskers (29-29) will face Indiana again at noon Sunday, and this time it’s winner-take-all.
The Hoosiers (42-14) are a virtual lock to make the 64-team NCAA field, so the stakes are much higher for Nebraska.
Cornhuskers coach Darin Erstad held off on using his top pitcher, Christian DeLeon, on Friday against the Gophers, using his bullpen to eliminate Minnesota with a 7-4 victory. DeLeon (7-4) got his chance against Ohio State and allowed just five hits in eight shutout innings.
Erstad went back to his bullpen against Indiana, giving Dylan Vogt his first start of the season. On Thursday, Vogt walked home the winning run in the ninth inning in Nebraska’s 3-2 loss to Ohio State.
But the Cornhuskers have won three straight games since that disappointing moment. Vogt needed just 68 pitches to get through seven-plus innings against Indiana.
Kyle Schwarber connected for a two-run homer in the third inning, and Sam Travis hit a three-run shot in the fifth, giving Indiana a 5-2 lead.
But Nebraska trimmed it to 5-4 in the sixth and scored two more in the seventh to move in front. Red Wing native Pat Kelly singled and scored during the go-ahead rally, continuing his outstanding tournament.
When Indiana was down to its final strike in the ninth inning, pinch hitter Ricky Alfonso hit a game-tying, RBI double to right field. But the magic didn’t end there for Nebraska. Lubach made sure of it.