Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm / Updated at 10:05 pm
NU treating first Big Ten tournament game as must-win
Big Ten Tournament: Nebraska vs. Michigan
When: First round, 3:35 p.m. Wednesday
Probable starters: NU LH Kyle Kubat (4-0, 2.15 ERA) vs. RH James Bourque (5-6, 5.00)
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

LINCOLN — As much as the Huskers would prefer to ignore all the pressure and emotion, they know there's no real way to downplay the importance of their Big Ten tournament opener Wednesday.

The game is huge.

No team has ever rebounded from a first-round loss to win this event since the conference adopted its current six-team format in 2002. Lose against No. 6 seed Michigan (29-25) at Minneapolis' Target Field on Wednesday, and No. 3 seed Nebraska would need six straight victories in four days to claim the crown.

The longest any team in that scenario has survived in 22 tries: three wins.

“It's not single-elimination, but it's pretty close,” NU coach Darin Erstad said.

And the Huskers know it.

NU (25-28) likely doesn't make an NCAA regional without earning the league's auto-bid. That's been this team's goal since the season's start.

But they'll be working to block out those big-picture thoughts Wednesday, a mental focus players admit has been difficult to consistently attain all year.

“You try not to think of it too much, but it's obviously there,” sophomore Pat Kelly said. “Kind of the monkey in the room. You've got to address it a little bit. But we're trying to think of it as just another game.”

Just another game, with a defeat essentially equating to a season-ending sentence. Especially when considering Nebraska's depleted pitching staff, which has struggled mightily of late.

It's possible that the Huskers' top starter, Christian DeLeon, could return Friday after sitting out the regular season's final series with elbow soreness. NU is definitely without two veteran relievers, juniors Brandon Pierce and Zach Hirsch.

The rest of the group hasn't handled the extra workload very well. In the last 36 innings, Nebraska pitchers have a team ERA of 9.25, allowing 13.3 hits and 5.3 walks per nine innings while giving up three home runs and hitting eight batters.

But NU pitchers have been effective when attacking hitters with fastballs and off-speed pitches down in the strike zone, Erstad said. That's their goal beginning Wednesday.

They'll need help from their defense and in the batter's box, where the Huskers must balance their aggressive nature with a bit of patience.

“We've shown at times we can play with anybody when we do that, but we're going to have to string that together for an entire tournament,” Erstad said. “Are we capable of it? Oh, absolutely. But we have to go out and prove it.”

The weight of potential elimination only makes it tougher, though.

Nebraska was in a similar position last year and didn't come through, falling behind Michigan State 10-2 in its tournament opener before a seven-run rally fell just short in the ninth inning. The Huskers stayed alive with one win a day later, but were eliminated by Ohio State.

They know what to expect now, though that doesn't necessarily mean it will be any easier to remain mentally focused, senior Chad Christensen said.

“It's do or die at this point, but you've got to treat every game the same,” Christensen said. “You're excited, the adrenaline is going and you want to perform. You just have to do a good job of keeping your emotions in check. And playing the game the way you've done it every single day.”

If Nebraska wins, it will face No. 2 seed Ohio State at 3:35 p.m. Thursday. A defeat would drop the Huskers into the losers bracket, where they'd face the loser of Wednesday's Illinois-Minnesota matchup at 12:05 p.m. Thursday.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Jon Nyatawa    |   402-473-9585    |  

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football and baseball, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
< >