Over the course of the past four years, the summer has given Luke Bublitz little time to catch his breath.
Under most circumstances the right-handed pitcher has gone right from the University of Nebraska’s roster to one of the many summer collegiate programs. But after bumping around from the Haysville (Kan.) Heat to the Anchorage (Alaska) Glacier Pilots the past few seasons, Bublitz is tinkering at doing something completely different.
“I might take the summer off,” the former two-sport standout from Legacy said. “I’ve never had one off, at least as far as I can remember.”
The choice to kick up his heels for the next couple of months is a difficult one for Bublitz. With the way his college year came to a conclusion, he had all the motivation in the world to keep the ball in his hand.
Bublitz had one of the most striking runs of his career to finish off his redshirt junior season. The pitcher came up with two of his four wins of 2013 in the Big 10 Tournament and helped the Big Red come within a run of the postseason.
“It was weird, everything just came together for me,” he said. “I think it was really just my mentality coming into the tournament. I had such an up-and-down year that I just kind of went for it.”
Bublitz’s top performance for the third-seeded Huskers came May 24, immediately after the team was knocked into the loser bracket. The middle reliever earned the win over fourth-seeded Minnesota behind a polished 3 1/3 innings of work. He faced 10 batters in that stretch, surrendering only one hit and no runs.
“It was big time,” he said. “We were short on arms coming in and knew the bullpen was going to have to step up. I just got the ball and tried to throw strikes. My defense was remarkable.”
The victory spurred the Huskers to the finals against eventual champion Indiana, where Bublitz forced a second game against the top seed with his second victory of the tournament. The stalwart performances when the chips were down came as no surprise to Gary Mares. The former Legacy skipper coached Bublitz his last full season, before back problems cut the pitcher’s high school career short. And he pegged the right-hander as “nails” when it mattered most.
“Luke was a bulldog, he competed his tail off,” said Mares, who now coaches Horizon softball. “If it was a big game, a Rocky Mountain or something like that, he was the guy you wanted on the mound and he wanted to be there. He went after the win.”
Despite the distasteful finish with Indiana edging the Huskers 4-3 in the second game, Bublitz could not help but feel he hit a turning point in his career in the tournament. It had been a difficult run, in some respects, up to that point. The right-hander endured his share of adversity in Lincoln, from Tommy John surgery after his freshman season to moving to a reliever position at the college level. The latter of the challenges has been one of the toughest Bublitz has had to tackle.
“Coming into college, I was used to pitching on my own terms, controlling my own game,” he said. “It was definitely a big change becoming a reliever. It’s more pressure. You’re brought in with bases loaded and one out, while your team is winning and your are expected to get the outs. In a situation like that you’re sweating bullets.”
From Bublitz’s perspective, consistency is the biggest key to a reliever’s success and he fully admits he has struggled with that facet of the game in college. But he believes he has become a more complete pitcher playing at the NCAA Division I level. The right-hander has kept his velocity consistently in the 89-90 mph range on his fastball. And he has expanded his menu from his fastball and breaking ball to include a two-seam fastball and slider.
This repertoire, along with a boost from his finish this past spring, has Bublitz aiming high for his final season. His top goal is to be the first man out of the bullpen, the Huskers’ top reliever. But in doing so, he aims to nail down a secondary ambition — make it the majors. If at all possible, Bublitz wants to make sure this is his first and last summer he takes off.
“I want to keep playing the games as long as I capable,” he said. “I think I’ve got the stuff to do it, it’s just a matter of throwing strikes consistently.”
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