During a grueling stretch that has Nebraska playing 13 games in as many days, the Husker Hardballers could be forgiven if they slipped against a Pac-12 team that’s not only ranked in the top twenty, but coming off a College World Series trip.
After dispatching a scrappy Kansas State team 9-6, and holding off Nebraska-Kearney 4-1, Nebraska faced off against No. 18 California in a four-game series at Haymarket Park.
The Huskers got punched in the nose to start the series as Cal abused Friday starter Zach Hirsch for seven runs in three innings. The Huskers’ identity is starting to show through as this team is clearly filled with fighters.
Nebraska’s offense posted a four-run fifth inning to keep the game in range, and the bullpen allowed only one run across the next seven innings. After trailing 8-4 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Huskers scored two runs in the final two innings to send the game to extras in dramatic fashion.
The bullpen finally gave way in the eleventh, as Travis Huber gave up three runs to begin the inning. While the Huskers lost, they showed their moxie yet again.
On Saturday, after trailing Cal 3-0 heading into the bottom of the third, and 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth, the Nebraska bats came alive, hitting three home runs en route to scoring 10 runs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.
The Huskers were paced by Richard Stock, who went three-of-five with a home run, a double, and three RBIs. Despite giving up five runs, Jon Keller was strong on the day as well, working 7.1 innings of work, and giving the bullpen a rest after Friday.
It was far from smooth sailing from there. Cal blanked the Huskers 4-0 on Sunday, holding the Huskers’ previously high-flying offense to just three hits. It wasted a strong effort from pitcher Tom Lemke, who gave up three two-out runs in 6.2 innings of work.
The series finale found the Huskers trailing yet again, as Cal broke through for a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning off Tyler Niederklien. Darin Erstad’s crew responded to trailing in the pivotal fourth game as Josh Scheffert singled to lead off the fifth, and would find himself up to bat again in the inning.
His second at-bat netted the Huskers a three run homer. After batting around, the Huskers put an eight spot on the board, and managed to fend off an attempted Cal rally in a 9-5 victory.
It’s already apparent that it’s hard to knock these Huskers down, and even harder to keep them from getting back up. They nearly pulled off the victory last Friday, and had come from behind wins on Saturday and Monday.
The complete lockdown on Sunday is something to keep an eye on, but Cal has a strong pitching staff, and had a gem of a game.
There is no rest for the weary as Nebraska returns today for a date with South Dakota State. This is before beginning a four-game series against Louisiana starting on Thursday.
It will be interesting to see how this brutal stretch will affect the Huskers as they head into conference play. Ideally, the rough stretch is helping to solidify Nebraska’s never-back-down attitude.
- After being projected as Nebraska’s closer this year and blowing his first save attempt against Gonzaga, 2011 starter Tyler Niederklein found himself as Nebraska’s fourth starter against Cal.
Darin Erstad has apparently realized moving him to the bullpen wasn’t the right move, and Niederklein responded with four strong innings before being tagged for four runs in the fifth and sixth.
- Cal worked timely hitting into its Sunday 4-0 win as all four runs were driven in with two outs. Ultimately, it didn’t matter much, as the Huskers could only muster three hits in the game.
- The eight-run fifth inning against Cal on Monday was Nebraska’s biggest inning of the season.
- Pat Kelly hit leadoff for the first time this season. He went two-for-four, and hit a bases-clearing three-RBI triple in the decisive fifth inning. After his three errors in the Gonzaga series, Kelly has been perfect defensively.
- The Bears scored the first run in all four games this weekend. Nebraska defied the percentages to win two of those games
- Nebraska is 10-3 in its last thirteen games after being swept in three games by Gonzaga to start the season. The Bulldogs had climbed into the rankings, tabbed as No. 1 in one computer power poll as one of the last remaining undefeated teams entering the weekend. The magical start ended though, as the Zags were swept in three games by New Mexico.
- Despite the close games and ninth inning theatrics this season, last Friday game was Nebraska’s first extra innings game of the season.
- Rich Sanguinetti hit the first grand slam by a Husker in nearly a year during the six-run eighth inning of Saturday’s game. Kurt Farmer’s grand slam against North Dakota last season was the previous bases-loaded homer.
- Eight Nebraska starters recorded a hit on Saturday’s 12-run, 13-hit game.
- Keller’s 7.1 inning Saturday performance against the Bears was his third start in seven days. It’s somewhat concerning to see Nebraska using the pitchers this heavily so early.
- Out of Chad Christensen’s team-leading 16 RBIs, 10 have come with two outs.
- The Huskers are now batting .310 as a team, though opponents are right behind them, hitting .293 against the Husker pitching staff.
- Kale Kiser continues to struggle at the dish, hitting .200, though he has the fifth-best OBP on the team at .438
- Richard Stock continues his tear, hitting .422 with a team-leading .622 SLG. Freshman Pat Kelly is hitting .400 as well, with a .600 SLG.
- A significant problem is that three of Nebraska’s worst ERAs belong to starting pitchers Tyler Niederklein, Zach Hirsch and Jon Keller.
There have been strong efforts from the staff, but rarely dominant ones. This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on as the season continues.
- The team WHIP is perhaps the most concerning statistic, currently sitting at a 1.79. This needs to get much closer to 1.00, giving us yet another reason to track the improvements of Ted Silva’s staff.