LINCOLN — Somewhere between the hollering and the dancing, with music echoing off the locker room walls and pure elation seemingly overtaking them, the Huskers dialed themselves back to take the field again.
They had just no-hit the nation's 12th-best team — the first NU no-hitter in 20 years. Their 3-0 win over Arkansas (25-14) was the Huskers' second victory in 11 tries against a ranked team this season.
But it wasn't enough.
Nebraska (16-19) wanted more. It's the never-let-up attitude that these NU players hope to sustain to turn around a program slumping since its last NCAA tournament appearance in 2008.
Then the Huskers took the second game, winning 4-2.
Tuesday's doubleheader sweep over the Razorbacks, who sit in second in the SEC Western Division, is just a start, though. Now these NU players have to prove they can be at their best every time out.
“That's the message that we need to get across, and that's a work in process,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “At the end of the day, we're creating our level of play, regardless of what's going on.”
For at least one day and 18 innings, however, the Huskers met their coach's high standards.
Sophomore Kyle Kubat, in his first appearance of the year, needed just 60 pitches to subdue the Arkansas lineup over five innings in the first game, throwing nothing but fastballs and change-ups. Seniors Tyler Niederklein and Dylan Vogt finished the job, completing the eighth no-hitter in school history.
It is believed to be the first time that Arkansas has been hitless in a game. Nebraska pitchers hadn't thrown a no-hitter of any kind since 1993, and they hadn't had a nine-inning no-hitter against a Division I team since 1954 against Kansas.
“It feels good. Against 12th-ranked Arkansas? It's something pretty special,” Kubat said. “It's good to be a part of it. It's good to get a team win.”
|MORE BIG RED TODAY UPDATES|
|Want the latest Husker headlines delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for email alerts!|
The left-hander threw 41 of his 60 pitches for strikes Tuesday, varying location and working at a quick pace. He bounced off the mound and sprinted toward the dugout at the conclusion of every frame, leaping over the foul line on his way.
Arm soreness is what kept him from contributing until Tuesday. He didn't start feeling healthy until two weeks ago. Then he threw two simulated innings last Wednesday, hopped off the mound and made eye contact with Erstad. “Let's go,” he told the NU coach.
“I had that shark-taste-blood kind of look in my eye,” Kubat said.
The entire Husker team seemed to have that demeanor Tuesday.
Nebraska took a 1-0 lead in the first game when Chad Christensen doubled in Michael Pritchard with two outs in the first. The Huskers added two more runs in the third on Christensen's single and Austin Darby's groundout.
The pitchers did the rest.
Vogt did walk outfielder Matt Vinson to lead off the ninth inning, but he induced a double play and then got outfielder Tyler Spoon to fly out. Razorback outfielder Joe Serrano had the hardest hit ball of the day for Arkansas with two outs in the sixth, but Darby made an over-the-shoulder grab at edge of the warning track in right field to preserve the no-hitter.
“I haven't had a clubhouse scene like that in a long time,” senior Kash Kalkowski said. “It was very exciting. It brought everybody together.”
And the confidence lingered into Tuesday's nightcap.
Junior Brandon Pierce and five NU relievers combined to hold the Arkansas batters to seven hits and two runs.
Sophomore Blake Headley delivered the night's most momentous hit when he broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning by launching a 1-0 pitch into the right-field bullpen. The solo shot was the first homer of his career.
“It's awesome,” Headley said. “When you've got pitchers on the mound and they're working with tempo, getting guys out, it's a great feeling. It brings confidence to you out on the field.”
Winning helps, too.
The Huskers started the year 0-7. They were competitive against good teams, but never found a way to click.
Yet they still find themselves in position to earn a favorable seed in the Big Ten tournament, where they can get an automatic berth to an NCAA Regional. They play a struggling Purdue team next weekend for a chance to move out of a tie for third place in the Big Ten standings.
They'll certainly enjoy Tuesday's accomplishments. “You just go nuts,” Headley said.
But there's more work to do. That's what Erstad told his team in the postgame meeting in left field.
“Now you've just shown me what you're capable of in a midweek game, the high level of play we can play,” Erstad said. “That's the expectation.”
Contact the writer:
402-473-9585, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/JonNyatawa