Just about when Nebraska seemed destined for a complete collapse against its rival, the Huskers managed to regain their footing on a mistake-filled Tuesday night.
Nebraska pitchers tied a season-high with 11 walks, nearly blowing an eight-run lead at TD Ameritrade Park. But timely hitting by an aggressive NU lineup and shutdown efforts from the team's top two relievers kept Creighton (28-15) from seizing control.
The Huskers (24-26) survived with a 12-9 win, though they reacted afterward as if they didn't deserve it — frustrated with the erratic pitching that led to the Jays' surge.
Still, NU did respond Tuesday when it could have crumbled. That's encouraging with the season's stretch run approaching, sophomore Austin Darby said.
“Nobody wants that (blown lead) to happen,” Darby said. “But when it does, I think it shows a lot that the team has enough heart to come back. ... That's why I love this team. We don't stop fighting no matter what.”
Even after the Huskers' eight-run advantage had been cut to 9-8, temporarily spoiling a confidence-boosting performance in advance of a three-game series against Michigan that starts Thursday.
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But sophomore catcher Tanner Lubach, who had three hits and four RBIs on the night, tilted the momentum back in NU's favor with a run-scoring double that extended the Huskers' lead to 10-8. Relievers Dylan Vogt and Josh Roeder combined to allow one hit and one unearned run in the final 31⁄3 innings to seal the win.
“We just cannot play from behind very well,” CU coach Ed Servais said. “They took us out of what we like to do with our bunt game and our hit-and-run game.
"We just made a lot of mental mistakes in that game, and that's very disappointing.”
The Jays tied a season high with three errors, allowing four unearned runs. The first balk of the year by a Creighton pitcher advanced a runner in the first. The infielders couldn't turn a double play in the third.
But NU coach Darin Erstad was just as frustrated with his team's effort, calling it “unacceptable” that a 9-1 game ended up featuring some drama-filled moments in the late innings.
“To have that kind of lead and not be able to throw strikes is just very disappointing,” Erstad said.
The Jays drew four walks and scored four times in the fifth inning, highlighted by Ryan Fitzgerald's two-out double down the left field line. Senior Chad Christensen nearly hauled in a sliding catch, but the ball bounced off his glove. He did recover in time to fire a relay throw to shortstop Bryan Peters, who gunned down Michael Blatchford at the plate to end the inning.
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Federico Castagnini's two-run home run in the sixth — his first of the year — pulled the Jays within 9-7. After a bases-loaded walk with two outs made it 9-8, Fitzgerald's deep flyball was tracked down by Darby in right-center field.
But Creighton couldn't take control. Not on a day when Nebraska jumped ahead 5-0 after the top of the first.
“You're in front of 10,000 people, you're excited and then they score five in that first inning,” Castagnini said. “It's not easy to come back.”
Getting an early lead was Nebraska's idea going in. The hitters talked about it during a meeting before the game.
They attacked Creighton's freshman starter Matt Warren early in the count. None of the first eight NU hitters saw more than three pitches, and six reached base. The Huskers added two more runs in the third and fifth innings for a 9-1 lead on Bryan Peters' pinch-hit sacrifice fly.
“That's what our challenge was (Tuesday), just to be calm and be ready to hit,” said senior Kash Kalkowski, who scored three times. “Be ready to go in the first inning and put some pressure on them.”
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