Baseball: Accolades rolling in for Nebraska's Kelly
MINNEAPOLIS - Nebraska Cornhusker Pat Kelly compiled one of the most productive freshman seasons in the program's history last year as a freshman. And it didn't stop there.
Kelly, a Red Wing native, followed up his Freshman All-American season with a First Team All-Big Ten honor this year as the Cornhuskers went 15-9 in conference play (25-28 overall) and garnered the No. 3 seed for the Big Ten tournament May 22-25 at Target Field.
"It means a lot," Kelly said of earning First Team All-Big Ten on Wednesday. "I'm a guy, I'm all about the team, but it's good to get that honor."
Kelly hit .326 with 10 doubles and was tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 75 hits. In conference play, Kelly finished with a .368 batting average, two home runs and was second with 43 hits.
On Wednesday, Nebraska opened play with an 11-2 blowout victory against sixth-seeded Michigan, a team that defeated the Cornhuskers 19-9 on Sunday in Lincoln, Neb. Kelly, starting at second base, finished 2-for-5 in Wednesday's victory with two infield singles and a run scored.
"They'll be days where you go 0-for-5 and you crush three balls right at the center fielder and it's just the baseball gods paying you right back," Kelly said. "You get those infield singles. You just take what you can get."
Kyle Kubat threw seven innings for Nebraska, allowing just one hit and had a career-high six strikeouts.
"The first game in this tournament is huge if you don't have the one or two seed," Kelly said. "It's good to get that first one and take each game day by day."
With the victory, the Cornhuskers advance to face second-seeded Ohio State Thursday at 3:35 p.m.
Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad continued to praise Kelly as a perfect fit for what the team is trying to do and lauded his work ethic on Wednesday.
"When you work as hard as Pat does, you get better. There's just no way you can't get better," Erstad said. "That's all it is; it's all him putting the work in and getting the reps."
Kelly is the Cornhuskers' starting second baseman and is also slotted into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. His ability to bunt, face any pitcher and deftly handle the bat in hit-and-run situations makes him perfectly suited for the role, Erstad said.
"The guy could hit three or four hole, too; it just sets up great where he's at," Erstad said. "He has the ability to do a lot of things. He's got a special ability to get the barrel on the baseball and that's been pretty consistent since he's been here."
After two decorated years in Nebraska, Kelly will look to get the Cornhuskers into the NCAA tournament with a Big Ten tournament victory this weekend, with the winner gaining an automatic bid. Individually, making the national All-American team might be the likely next step.
"You just got to keep getting better and keep working. The awards and accolades will come," Kelly said.