MINNEAPOLIS — In one of the most pressure-packed moments of two days full of them, sophomore Tanner Lubach somehow convinced himself to relax.
He hadn't had a hit at Target Field. Nothing in 16 at-bats. That bugged him, endlessly. And he'd been trying too hard to reverse that trend, obsessing too much over offensive failures while his teammates continued to keep NU alive by delivering in the clutch.
So Lubach let himself breath, and just tried to hit a fastball hard somewhere. That's all it took.
The catcher out of Lincoln Southwest drilled a solo home run in the bottom of the 11th inning Saturday to lift the Huskers (29-29) to a 7-6 win over No. 1 seed Indiana.
Lubach hadn't hit a home run since opening day, but he smashed a 1-1 pitch by IU junior Ryan Halstead to seal Nebraska's doubleheader sweep of the Big Ten's top two teams and force a winner-take-all rematch with the Hoosiers (42-14) at 12:05 p.m. Sunday.
“I've been pressing so much the past couple days,” Lubach said. “I just wanted to help us win. … I just told myself, 'No pressure right here. You've got nothing to lose.' ”
Thing is, Nebraska had everything to lose.
The Huskers likely don't make the NCAA tournament without the Big Ten's automatic bid. And they've had to win three straight elimination games — including a 7-4 victory over No. 4 seed Minnesota Friday — just to get themselves in position for a title shot Sunday.
NU coach Darin Erstad gambled and saved No. 1 starter Christian DeLeon for Saturday, a decision that paid off when the junior threw eight shutout innings in a 5-0 win over No. 2 seed Ohio State.
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An hour later, the Huskers were on the field again, trying their best not to allow their minds wander beyond the next pitch.
If they've fully grasped the improbability of their Saturday feats, they didn't know how to articulate it afterward.
Said Vogt: “I really don't have any words for it.”
Michigan made a similar run in 2006, winning four straight games out of the loser's bracket for a tourney title. Ohio State fell one game short in 2004. The Sunday game has been played just four times in the 11 years of this current format, and the team emerging from the loser's bracket has won two of those.
Nebraska's just glad to have a chance, though.
The Huskers were one strike away from clinching a win in the ninth inning of Saturday's nightcap, but Indiana pinch hitter Ricky Alfonso dropped an RBI-double just inches inside the right field line to tie the game at 6-6 in the ninth off reliever Josh Roeder.
The Hoosiers left a runner on second in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings.
“It just came down to grinding it out,” Vogt said. “We've been doing it all year, just trying to push runs across and throw up zeros. That's what it came down to.”
Vogt hadn't started a game since his sophomore year. And he'd lost his last three appearances, giving up 10 runs and 12 hits in 4-2/3 innings.
But he pitched seven innings, giving up a two-run homer and a three-run shot. He made two big mistakes — both were deposited into left field — and he surrendered several other sharp line drives. But Nebraska's defense played well all night, turning four double plays.
Vogt never lost his confidence and he threw a season-high 68 pitches.
“I don't think he would have let me take him out any earlier,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “His arm's very resilient. Being a sinker-baller, even if he gets a little tired, loses some velocity, the sinker ball still sinks.”
The Hoosiers tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning when sophomore Kyle Schwarber bounced one of Vogt's fastballs off the left field foul pole. They jumped in front 5-2 on Sam Travis' three-run blast, a homer that landed in Target Field's second deck in left.
Nebraska absorbed the momentum swings and battled back, though.
It was senior Kash Kalkowski who singled in sophomore Pat Kelly to put the Huskers in front 6-5. Kalkowski had four hits against Indiana, including a two-run homer that gave Nebraska an early 2-0 lead.
The Huskers couldn't extend the lead despite getting their leadoff man on in the second and fourth. They had another chance in the 10th, when Blake Headley singled to start the frame, but pinch runner Ty Kildow was thrown out at second on a fake-bunt-steal play.
But they kept trying to get the next guy on base. Just to put a little pressure on their opponent.
Then Lubach stepped to the plate, and joined a growing list of Huskers who've had their career moments here in Minneapolis.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Lubach said. “Just trying to find a way on base to put us in position to push a run across. It just kind of happened.”
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