The Nebraska Cornhuskers were three games under .500 entering the Big Ten baseball tournament. Now they’re one victory from a championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tourney.
Nebraska continued its improbable climb Saturday at Target Field, eliminating 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 deposited a walk-off homer into the left field seats. It was his first hit in 17 tournament at-bats. “I just told myself, ‘No pressure right here. You’ve got nothing to lose,’ ” Lubach said.
The third-seeded Cornhuskers (29-29) will face Indiana again at 12:05 p.m. Sunday. This time it’s winner-take-all. The Hoosiers (42-14) are a virtual lock for the 64-team NCAA field, so the stakes are much higher for Nebraska.
Cornhuskers coach Darin Erstad said he’ll bring back lefthander Kyle Kubat, who carried a no-hit bid for 6⅔ innings Wednesday in Nebraska’s victory over Michigan.
Erstad held off using another ace, Christian DeLeon, on Friday against the Gophers, using the bullpen to eliminate Minnesota with a 7-4 victory. DeLeon (7-4) allowed just five hits in eight shutout innings against the Buckeyes.
Erstad went back to his bullpen against Indiana, giving Dylan Vogt his first start of the season. Vogt went seven-plus innings. Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the third inning and Sam Travis a three-run shot in the fifth, giving Indiana a 5-2 lead.
But by the ninth inning, Indiana trailed 6-5 until pinch hitter Ricky Alfonso hit a game-tying, RBI double. The magic didn’t end there for Nebraska. Lubach made sure of it.
“We’re looking at it as one game,” Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. “Nobody’s won or lost the championship yet. So it’s a very confident dugout.”