MINNEAPOLIS—Kyle Kubat was pitching with a heavy heart Wednesday.
Kubat spent Tuesday at his grandmother’s funeral and did not travel to Minneapolis with his teammates. He dedicated Wednesday’s start to her memory, and he turned in a performance to remember.
Kubat, a sophomore lefthander for Nebraska, carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, giving up just two walks before Kevin White broke up the no-hit bid with a single to center field with two outs in the seventh. He exited after throwing seven innings of one-hit, shutout ball, leading Nebraska to an 11-2 thrashing of Michigan.
“It was tough,” Kubat said. “But after the funeral, I knew I needed to be here. My ‘Husker family, i know they were missing me, and i missed them. That’s the only thing I could think about. It was an emotional start, but I know she’s looking down. It’s a fun game to pitch in. It was pretty easy when they put up 11 runs. It makes my job that much easier.”
Kubat retired the first nine batters of the game before Patrick Biondi drew a leadoff walk in the fourth. He finished with six strikeouts and four walks, and Nebraska coach Darin Erstad told him afterward that he wouldn’t have gotten a chance to complete the no-hitter anyway, because his pitch count was 117 through seven innings.
As it turned out, White made that debate moot with his first-pitch single with a man on first in the seventh.
“You know, Coach called a fastball, and I was thinking, ‘Let’s throw a changeup because that’s been working.’ I just said, ‘Let’s maybe surprise them a little bit,’ ” Kubat said. “He put a good swing on it. It’s all right. It was fun while it lasted.”
Kubat, who went 5-1, 2.63 as a freshman, missed Nebraska’s first 33 games with a tender shoulder, but he has given the Cornhuskers a major lift since returning to action. In seven starts, he is 5-0, 1.81 with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks in 45 innings.
He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, working at 84-86 mph, but he showed excellent feel for pitching Wednesday. He sells his 75-79 mph changeup very well, and he mixed in his big, slow 68-70 curveball effectively against the Wolverines.
“That’s pretty much what he does,” Erstad said. “Pounds his fastball in to righties, opens up the whole plate. He’s able to throw his changeup in any hitter’s count he wants, and he competes. He controls the running game, it’s hard to steal off him. It’s just a pretty good combination. Lefthanded, can command a couple pitches. I thought his breaking ball was as sharp as it’s been. He doesn’t throw a ton of them, but you throw a wrinkle in there with that. It’s a pretty effective three-pitch mix.”
The listless Wolverines didn’t even make any hard contact against Kubat until White’s single.
“He’s got the changeup as a special pitch,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He kept us off balance when we played at Nebraska this past Thursday, and he got through the lineup the first couple times pretty handily. He’s just one of those guys that has really good command down in the zone, he spots his fastball on both sides. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait him out and be aggressive up in the zone, just try to zone-hit up. But we just weren’t able to string many things together today offensively, and he certainly had a good day.”
So did the Nebraska offense, which rapped out 12 hits and put the game out of reach on Austin Darby’s three-run double off the right-field wall in the fifth, putting the ‘Huskers up 7-0. Nebraska played with abundant confidence, producing quality at-bats up and down the lineup. If they continue to play at such a high level, Nebraska will be a very tough out in this tournament.