BASEBALL: NEBRASKA 9, PURDUE 6
LINCOLN — Nebraska's hitters knew they'd have some good chances for solid contact against a sophomore who'd never started a game before Saturday and a Purdue pitching staff that's statistically one of the worst in the Big Ten.
The key? Not trying to do too much. They wanted to put controlled swings on the occasional mistakes, particularly any misplaced fastballs that could be redirected with force.
The Huskers (34-17, 9-10 Big Ten) followed through on that plan Saturday, scoring four times in the second inning to take a lead they'd never relinquish in a 9-6 win over the Boilermakers before 4,003 at Haymarket Park. NU smoked liners all over the field and finished with 13 hits — 11 singles.
"I liked our approach," Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. "They looked ready to hit. To me, that's important. We're going to have to keep that going."
It's the fifth straight game in which the Huskers have recorded a double-digit hit total, the longest such streak of the year for them. They blew out Northwestern 11-0 their last time out.
They produced again Saturday, just like many other opposing offenses have against the struggling Purdue pitchers. The Boilermakers (15-34, 2-17) ranked 12th in the conference with a 6.14 ERA in league play coming into the series. Big Ten opponents were hitting .321 against them. Purdue sophomore Alex Lyons, Saturday's starter, hadn't pitched more than three innings in an outing until he threw five at Michigan State a week ago.
So the Huskers couldn't let their guests settle in on the mound. They didn't score in the first inning, but smacked a few pitches right at defenders. Then they broke through in the second after a leadoff walk.
First baseman Austin Christensen bounced a chopper into right field and left fielder Luis Alvarado tied the game 1-1 with an RBI single up the middle. Second baseman Jake Schleppenbach squared to bunt, pulled the bat back and ripped a single into right field. Shortstop Jake Placzek put the Huskers in front with a sacrifice fly. Center fielder Ryan Boldt singled to right, scoring another. Third baseman Blake Headley's deep flyout into the left field gap plated Schleppenbach and made it 4-1.
"We were just aggressive on fastballs early in the count, putting good swings on it," said catcher Tanner Lubach, who had two hits and scored twice. "Not being passive at the plate. That paid off."
It was certainly the case for senior right fielder Austin Darby, who pulled a 1-0 fastball into the right-field bullpen for a two-run homer in the fifth that increased Nebraska's lead to 6-3. The scorching line drive was Darby's second home run this year.
"I've been working on it a little bit with Coach Erstad, on keeping my hands inside the baseball," Darby said. "I just happened to get one. I was sitting on it."
His drive served as Nebraska's answer to Purdue's one-run fourth and fifth innings. But NU never really could put the Boilermakers away for good until the final out.
Starter Chance Sinclair hit a batter in the helmet and walked another, ending his outing in the fifth inning. Purdue scored once
PURDUE AT NEBRASKA
1:05 p.m. Sunday
Haymarket Park, Lincoln
1110 AM KFAB
RH Gavin Downs (4-4, 7.41 ERA) vs. NU LH Kyle Kubat (4-3, 2.64) in the seventh and twice in the eighth.
Two Boilermaker runs were unearned. NU committed three errors, including two errant throws that gave Purdue a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
"It wasn't pretty, obviously," Erstad said. "We didn't take care of the baseball like we normally do. But you have to find a way to win those games when you don't play up to the level of defense that we want to."
Josh Klute, the ballpark's athletic turf manager, received a standing ovation as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He and his grounds crew helped prepare the Haymarket Park playing surface after Wednesday's storms left the entire outfield under water.
Closer Josh Roeder picked up his 15th save of the year. He's already Nebraska's all-time saves leader. He's one save away from tying the program's single-season record.
Boldt had three hits Saturday. He's recorded eight straight multi-hit games.
NU will honor its seniors before the game Sunday.
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