After Nebraska’s embarrassing series loss to the Northwestern Wildcats last weekend, it became apparent that Mike Anderson had left the Huskers in more disarray than most had realized or expected.
The Big Red was about to take up residence in the conference cellar with back-to-back losing weekends to teams with sub-200 RPIs (Boyd’s World).
Nebraska had dropped the opening game of the series 4-3 while summoning just eight hits against Iowa ace Jarred Hippen over his 7.1 innings of work, and mustered nothing against closer Nick Brown.
Once again, the Huskers were done in by errors. The team committed three on the day, and Iowa only plated two earned runs against the Huskers. Starter Tom Lemke was the bad-luck loser.
Nebraska bounced back with a 9-4 win on Saturday with Brandon Pierce’s first career conference start allowing just three runs over six innings of work.
The Husker offense also showed up out-hitting the Hawkeyes 10-7, and improving to 14-1 when out-hitting their opponents. Nebraska entered the ninth inning of Easter Sunday’s game down 8-5.
The Huskers then laid out three straight singles by Kash Kalkowski, Richard Stock, and Josh Scheffert to reduce the Iowa lead to two when Kalkowski scored.
Austin Darby then successfully sacrificed Stock and Scheffert into scoring position. True freshman Pat Kelly connected with a 1-2 slider that sailed over the fielder’s head in center field for a two-run RBI and game-tying triple.
Kale Kiser came to the plate with one out, and delivered the game-winning walk-off dinger. All of this offense off of the same closer that had effortlessly shut the door on Nebraska Friday night.
Remarkably, the ninth inning heroics were the difference between a tie for the Big Ten’s second place slot versus being alone at seventh. Purdue is pacing everyone with a two-game lead on the trio of Nebraska, Ohio State and Indiana.
The Huskers will be stiffly-tested this week. On Tuesday, the in-state rivalry with Creighton is renewed at Haymarket Park. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network and BTN2Go.com.
Nebraska then will face a challenging opponent in Ohio State in Columbus. The next six conference games will be key for Darin Erstad’s squad as they face two of the top four teams in the Big Ten.
Big Red fans should be cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the Ohio State series and worried about the match up against Purdue the following week.
The Boilermakers are looking like a potential Top 16 seed and regional host in the NCAA Tournament at their current pace. They’ll go all out against Nebraska to prove they belong among the nation’s elite.
It should be a fun couple of weeks to find out just how good these Huskers are. It’ll be telling about Erstad’s abilities if they can regain some of the early season form that had fans so excited.
AROUND THE B1G
No. 19 Purdue – 7-2 (24-5)
Nebraska – 5-4 (22-12)
Ohio State – 5-4 (18-12)
Indiana – 5-4 (14-18)
Michigan State 3-3 (19-10)
Illinois – 3-3 (17-12)
Minnesota 3-3 (17-16)
Iowa 4-5 (13-16)
Michigan 2-4 (15-17)
Penn State – 2-4 (13-18)
Northwestern – 3-6 (10-18)
Nebraska’s series loss to Northwestern is even more embarrassing after No. 19 Purdue, the class of the league, swept the Wildcats with no trouble.
Ohio State swept Minnesota in three low scoring games to pull into a tie for second, while Indiana took their series against Illinois 2-1 to add to the logjam behind Purdue.
Michigan State, widely considered to be one of the top three teams in the league, dropped a series at Michigan, but salvaged a Sunday win in a 13-inning thriller. Penn State was idle in league play, but swept Canisius.
- Leadoff hitter Michael Pritchard continues his tear, going 5-of-14 on the weekend with two RBIs. He remains the only Husker hitter batting over .400 on the season.
- Richard Stock also had an excellent weekend at the dish, going 5-for-9 with a walk and an RBI. Kash Kalkowski was 5-of-12 and Chad Christensen was a solid 4-for-12.
- The only truly effective start for Nebraska pitching came from rookie Brandon Pierce, who delivered six innings of three-run ball in Saturday’s win.
- The Huskers’ defensive woes continued with four errors on the weekend. Iowa capitalized as 25 percent of their 16 runs on the weekend were unearned.
- One growing concern is how Nebraska can’t seem to get past team’s opening pitchers. Iowa only used three starters and four relievers over the course of the weekend.
Darin Erstad and Will Bolt’s aggressive plate approach has paid off, but if the Huskers can’t get a big inning going, teams are getting good outings out of their starters versus the Huskers.
- After Kurt Farmer’s two errors on Friday, Josh Scheffert took over the hot corner for the rest of the weekend and went 3-of-7 with 4 RBIs and 2 walks. He was 1 of 4 on Friday at 1B. Richard Stock took over 1B. Farmer was batting .258 on the season.
- As a team, the Huskers are hitting at a .320 pace, with an OBP of .400. Opponents are hitting .282 against the Huskers and reaching base at a .361 clip.
- The despite the losses, earned runs are getting harder to come by against Nebraska’s pitchers. The team ERA is down to 3.78, though the team WHIP of 1.48 is still too high.
- With Brandon Pierce and Tom Lemke, Nebraska finally has two starters under 4.00 ERA. Pierce sports a 4-1 record with a 2.45 ERA. Lemke is 3-3 with some bad luck losses, and a 3.93 ERA. Third starter Zach Hirsch is at a 4.73 ERA with a 3-2 record.
- Kurt Farmer’s hitting hasn’t been great and his fielding percentage of .889 may see him relegated to bench duty. Freshman Pat Kelly is holding a .922 at second base. The infield has been particularly shaky for Nebraska this season. Overall fielding percentage sits at .974.
- Nebraska has only 11 home games remaining this season.