LINCOLN — The reaction was the same in the Nebraska dugout Friday after each of the three double plays in the first four innings that kept the Huskers from taking command.
“The big inning will come,” coach Darin Erstad told his players, who kept trying to encourage one another between at-bats. No reason to panic or press.
The patience paid off in the fifth inning, when NU (14-17, 8-2 Big Ten) knocked Ohio State’s ace out of the game by scoring six times to build its lead from 3-2 to 9-2. The Huskers cruised to an 11-2 win, moving into a tie for first place in the conference with Indiana (26-5, 8-2).
“If you keep hitting it hard like that, (the big inning) will come. And it did,” said senior Kash Kalkowski, who had two doubles and four RBIs Friday.
It was a different story a month ago. Squandering scoring opportunities seemed to be a recurring theme for Nebraska in March, when six of its eight losses were by one or two runs.
Bunting was inconsistent. Strikeout totals mounted. Clutch hits weren’t coming often enough.
So the Huskers recommitted themselves to their basic hitting strategy: driving pitches on the outside part of the plate to the opposite field, while occasionally turning on off-speed mistakes inside.
It was key to their success Friday against Jaron Long, whose cutter and sinker can easily result in weak grounders when batters get too aggressive, Erstad said.
“If you don’t have a good approach against him, he’ll make you roll over all day long,” Erstad said.
Long did get those three double plays, limiting the damage in the first, third and fourth.
But Kalkowski followed his coach’s advice in the fifth, capitalizing on another opportunity by driving an elevated fastball into the right-field gap for a two-run double. After three singles and two more runs scored, the day ended for Long. He had averaged 623 innings per start.
The Huskers, now 8-0 at home this year, had 15 hits — 13 of which were served up the middle or to the opposite side of the field. Not counting the double plays, they had seven hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, including two sacrifice bunts and three sacrifice flies.
“Guys just put constant pressure on him from the get-go,” Erstad said. “We had an opportunity to score some more runs, but that’s hitting. You’re not going to get them in every time. But you continue to do that and have base runners, you’re going to get through.”
NU starter Christian DeLeon did the rest.
After giving up 15 runs in his previous three starts, the right-hander scattered eight hits in eight innings against the Buckeyes (21-11, 5-5). He threw 87 pitches, relying heavily on a change-up that he’s refined since joining the squad last fall from Blinn (Texas) Community College.
DeLeon gave up two solo home runs, but he finished in a groove, retiring 12 of the last 14 he faced. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out five.
“I just try to attack the strike zone,” he said. “I could locate my fastball, especially on the outside of the zone. And my change-up was working pretty well, too.”
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