LINCOLN — After the Nebraska baseball team rallied to beat Ohio State in the first two games of the series, it was only fitting that the same would happen in the final game Sunday between the two teams.
The Huskers (19-13 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) followed Saturday’s 4-3 ninth-inning victory with another walk-off win.
On Sunday, NU starting pitcher Aaron Bummer, who improved to 4-2 on the year, went the distance, while his battery mate, Tanner Lubach, drove in the winning run with a two-out single as Nebraska completed the sweep with a 2-1 victory.
“That definitely doesn’t happen very often,” said NU head coach Darin Erstad. “During the game, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is like an NBA basketball game, you don’t have to watch until the last 30 seconds. That’s the way it’s been the whole weekend.”
Despite Bummer’s dominance, he found himself in a jam early in Sunday’s contest. The first three Buckeye (18-14, 2-7) hitters reached base safely. OSU’s leadoff man Troy Kuhn reached on an error, while Jacob Bosiokovic and Ronnie Dawson each recorded hits.
Bummer had the bases loaded with no outs, but he was able to force Josh Dezse to ground into a double play and Zach Ratcliff to fly out to escape with only one run allowed.
“He was pretty eratic early, I thought. Even though he was effectively wild, he got back in the zone, but he didn’t really have a feel for his breaking ball,” Erstad said of Bummer. “About the third or fourth inning, he found a groove and started throwing those for strikes and really commanded a lot better.”
In the top of the fourth inning, Bummer walked the leadoff batter and allowed a one-out single. Again, he got out of the jam when Pat Porter hit a comebacker to Bummer that went for a 1-6-3 double play.
The NU starter settled in after that, retiring 11 straight Buckeyes. He didn’t allow another baserunner until the top of the eighth when Nick Sergakis singled. Bummer continued to throw effectively, getting the next batter, Tim Wetzel, to ground into another double play.
“Bummer’s just got something about him. He’s competing up there,” Lubach said. “The big thing for him is just to get it down in the zone and just fight out there, not giving away at bats. Today, he just pounded the strikezone and good things happened for him.”
The NU starter finished the game throwing 98 pitches. After a 13-pitch, fourth-inning walk to start the inning, Bummer threw just 50 pitches in the remaining six innings of work.
Bummer faced just four OSU hitters in the top of the ninth, heading into the bottom of the final inning with the score tied at 1-1.
The Huskers’ first two batters, Pat Kelly and Ryan Boldt, grounded out to start the inning. Blake Headley kept the inning alive with a two-out single to right field. Designated hitter Ben Miller continued the rally with another single, prompting a visit to the mound for the Buckeyes.
Lubach, who drove in Nebraska’s first run of the game in the fourth inning, stepped up to the plate with Kelly in scoring position at second base. Lubach sent the first pitch he saw to right-center, allowing Kelly to score the winning run.
“I just told myself I was going to be ready to hit. The previous at bat, he hung me a slider or a curveball, and I rolled it over to third base. I wanted that one back so bad,” Lubach said. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m probably going to get that same pitch right here, so I might as well make the most of it.’ Good thing it happened.”
Lubach was sharp at the plate all day. In his first at bat, the catcher hit a hard grounder up the middle, which would have scored a run if not for Kuhn, OSU’s second baseman, making a diving play to throw Lubach out at first and keeping Headley at third. Lubach’s second at bat resulted in his RBI-single in the fourth, but it was his third plate appearance that prepared him for his ninth-inning heroics.
“(In the ninth), I just wanted to stay quiet and stay to right-center,” he said. “I just let it get deep and stay through it, because the previous AB was the exact opposite. You have to make adjustments. That’s what baseball and hitting is about, making adjustments. I felt like that was something I needed to do in that last AB, and I did.”
Lubach was responsible for two of NU’s seven hits. Headley also tallied two, while Miller, Kelly and Austin Darby recorded the others.
Ohio State starter Jake Post (3-3) also threw every pitch for the Buckeyes, allowing just one earned run. He was out-done by Bummer, who allowed just five hits and no earned runs in nine innings of work.
“I came out with the same edge,” Bummer said, referring to his performance in the victory March 30 against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “I had to go out there with my best stuff, and, like we talked about last week, my best stuff was better than their best stuff. So that’s just what I went with to get that edge.”
Bummer’s complete-game win was the third of the series for the Nebraska pitching staff.
“I think it was unbelievable,” Bummer said. “Our starting pitching gave up, I think, two earned runs all weekend, and we saved our bullpen, which puts us in great position for the midweek and the rest of the season.”
After Lubach’s walk-off hit, the rest of the team met him at first base and celebrated the victory. Erstad said those kind of moments are what players remembers down the road.
“Those are college gameday experiences that you’re going to share with your teammates forever,” he said. “They’re going to talk about this weekend 20 years from now when they come back for their reunion and talk about how they stunk it up and found a way to win all three days. It’s a compliment to them for keeping it together and continuing to fight. It’s just great memories for them, and let’s create some more.”
Next up for the Huskers is the second battle of the season with in-state rival Creighton. Nebraska won the first game 5-4 in the 10th inning. The NU coach hopes his pitching staff will continue to provide strong outings.
“To go complete games three in a row, I don’t know if I expected that, but I expected them to give us a chance to win,” Erstad said. “You’re going to need consistent starting pitching to put together streaks. It was encouraging to see (Jake) Hohensee last Tuesday not walk anybody, so baby steps with him. We’ll throw him back out there on Tuesday and see how it goes.”
Lubach said the Huskers and the Bluejays are plenty familiar with each other, but it’s important to not get too wrapped up in the storyline.
“You know a lot of guys on that team, and you were probably recruited by them, but you have to approach it like any other game,” he said. “It’s the Creighton Bluejays, but you have to approach it like any other game. You have to go out there and play Husker baseball, so that’s what we have to do.”
Nebraska has now won five of its last six games and is on a four-game win streak. Erstad said his team will have to not let the success get to its head.
“We’re at that point where everybody’s going to tell them how good they are,” Erstad said. “They’re going to tweet them, they’re going to text them, everybody’s going to say you’re doing great. We haven’t handled success real well. We have to take our game to the next level where we come out just as hungry on Tuesday and play a good baseball game.
“Last time, we did the same type of thing. We had an off day Monday, went and played Creighton and walked 10 guys. It was not a good game. I reminded them of that. We’re going to have to go out and play well against a good Creighton team. We just need to continue to play consistent baseball here.”
Lubach agreed it is important to not get too big-headed.
“Obviously, you have to stay level-headed. There are going to be people out there blowing you up, saying, ‘Great job,’ ” he said. “We still have a lot of season left. You can’t think too highly of yourself because this game will humble you real quick.”