LINCOLN — Pat Kelly couldn't get a hit against Northwestern in the series opener. The second baseman went 0 for 9.
But Friday's 16-inning game and his offensive struggles seem to be behind him now. Kelly drove in four of Nebraska's runs, going 4 for 5 for the second straight game, as the Huskers completed a three-game Big Ten sweep with Sunday's 8-6 win at Haymarket Park.
“The guy can hit, there's no way around it,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “He's licking his chops the next day, because he knows the hits are going to come.”
The Wildcats committed seven errors, leading to five unearned runs.
But that's OK with Erstad.
“I'll take them any way they come,” he said.
The ultimate goal, Erstad said, was to finish the conference schedule with either the first or second seed in the Big Ten tournament to earn a first-round bye.
The Huskers improved to 11-15, including 5-1 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats dropped to 10-9 and 2-4.
Kelly said he was not discouraged by the Friday outing.
“I was just getting in there and taking good swings.”
Kelly drove in a run in the first after center fielder Rich Sanguinetti doubled to open the inning. He drove in another run in the second after third baseman Blake Headley, shortstop Bryan Peters and Sanguinetti singled.
Sanguinetti finished the game with three hits — including two doubles — and two RBIs. Headley had two hits.
Kelly drove in two runs in a three-run seventh inning, when two Northwestern errors allowed the rally to gain life. It was one of three innings in which Northwestern committed two errors.
Wildcat coach Paul Stevens was ejected in the seventh after prolonged and vehement argument over a call at second base that left Nebraska with two runners on with one out instead of one runner on with two out. An error at third on the next play loaded the bases.
The Northwestern series served notice that the Huskers, whose offense was meager during a California trip, were starting to regain the hitting form of last season. They totaled 52 hits in the three-game series, an average of more than 17 a game.
“Fifty hits speaks for itself,” Kelly said. “When we're swinging well and bunting well, that's when we're winning games.”
Kelly has gone 15 for 35 in six Big Ten games for an average of .429.
Nebraska got an encouraging pitching performance from senior righty Tyler Niederklein, who is returning from hip surgery. Niederklein pitched four solid innings, giving up one run on three hits before being replaced at the start of the fifth inning.
“He threw strikes today,” Erstad said. “He's had a tough time throwing strikes. On the positive side, he felt better today.”
Erstad limited Niederklein to 45 pitches.
“I didn't want to do anything crazy,” the coach said. “That was pretty major hip surgery he had.”
Said Niederklein: “I just tried to throw strikes and give our team a chance to win.”
Erstad was not pleased that the Huskers committed three errors in the last two innings, allowing the Wildcats to close a four-run gap to 8-6 in the eighth. Headley, Kelly and Peters all booted ground balls.
Last week, the Huskers ranked fifth in the country and first in the Big Ten with a fielding percentage of .985.
“We've played tremendous defense, and then we decide to take a couple of innings off,” Erstad said. “We didn't take care of the baseball.”
Nebraska will play Tuesday at Kansas State before another three-game conference series at Iowa on April 5 through 7. The next home game will be at 6:35 p.m. April 9 against Creighton.
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