LINCOLN — Thursday was unfolding exactly the way Nebraska wanted, right up to the moment when the Huskers suddenly lost their edge.
NU had a 5-3 lead with its go-to reliever on the mound in the seventh inning, eight outs from moving into a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. With runners on second and third, senior Dylan Vogt struck out Michael O’Neill — Michigan’s best hitter — in an 11-pitch at-bat for the second out of the frame.
Then it all unraveled.
The Wolverines (28-24, 13-9 Big Ten) scored four runs on three two-out singles, seizing momentum and ultimately earning a 7-5 win at Haymarket Park
“They put up a big four-spot,” sophomore catcher Tanner Lubach said. “We almost got too comfortable with it there.”
The Huskers (24-27, 14-8) scored twice in the second and fourth innings, jumping in front 5-2 on Lubach’s RBI single in the fifth inning.
But they couldn’t build on the lead, unable to solve Michigan reliever James Bourque. The right-hander gave up two hits and struck out six in 323 innings, spotting his slider and curveball low in the strike zone often enough to keep Nebraska’s lineup off balance.
“He did a nice job really attacking the zone,” Wolverine coach Erik Bakich said. “That was the difference in the game. We were able to separate ourselves while he was holding them down.”
Bourque set the tone when he entered the game, wiggling out of a sixth-inning jam. With runners on the corners, he faked to third base and threw to first, picking off sophomore Blake Headley. Freshman shortstop Wes Edrington struck out looking after that.
“From that point on, it was Michigan’s momentum,” Lubach said. “Just an opportunity we didn’t capitalize on.”
The Wolverines, meanwhile, had several clutch hits in a game they needed to help secure a Big Ten tournament spot.
They grounded into three double plays against NU starter Kyle Kubat, but Patrick Biondi’s two-out single made it 4-2 in the fifth. Left fielder Zach Zott scored O’Neill with another two-out hit in the sixth.
An inning later, Vogt couldn’t get the final out, either.
“A couple-run lead in the seventh, going to Vogt — I’m feeling pretty good about what’s going on,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “It just didn’t work out.”
The Huskers can earn a No. 2 seed in the league tournament if they win twice, as long as Ohio State doesn’t split its last two games against Indiana. There’s still the chance of four teams sharing the title (Nebraska included).
But NU let Thursday’s game get away, failing late in its attempts to salvage a win. The Huskers had two runners on with two outs in the eighth, but Chad Christensen struck out. Runners were on second and third with two outs in the ninth, but Headley lined out to third base to end the game.
The teams play again at 6:35 Friday night at Haymarket Park. The game will be televised on NET.
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