The Purdue Boilermakers were riding high on their way into Haymarket Park thanks to a nine-game winning streak, 29 wins overall and a three-game lead in the conference race.
That combination gives a team confidence it can feed off of down the stretch. The Boilermakers did just that, taking the series from Nebraska by winning Friday and Sunday’s tilts.
Nebraska showed heart across the series, but it also demonstrated its flaws.
Friday hosted another round of the revolving door that is Nebraska’s Friday starting pitcher.
One only has to think back to the days of Shane Komine, Joba Chamberlain and Johnny Dorn to realize that Nebraska is missing that key guy who can handle business on Friday. This week, Jon Keller was lit up in the first two innings as four Boilermakers crossed the plate.
The Huskers then went to a Johnny Wholestaff approach as a total of six pitchers were used.
That said, Nebraska’s offense struck back, tying the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth inning before knocking Purdue ace Joe Haase out of the game. However, his replacement was stunning.
Blake Mascarello lived up to his jersey (No. 13) . He faced only 13 batters, the minimum, to finish the game. He completely locked Nebraska down on the way to earning the victory and improving to 7-1.
Brandon Pierce was easily this week’s Husker highlight as he made a case for being the Friday starter. He pitched seven innings on Saturday, and while allowing nine hits and three walks, he minimized the damage with only two earned runs.
Nebraska’s offense again chased a Purdue starter, knocking out their No. 2 pitcher in the sixth inning. The Big Red scored the decisive five runs in a 8-3 victory for Erstad’s squad.
On Sunday, the Huskers again managed to knock a Purdue starter out in the sixth inning and scored three runs, but the Boilermakers had an another ace reliever waiting.
Nick Wittgren pitched the final 3.2 innings while only allowing three hits. Purdue finally broke through on Nebraska starter Zach Hirsch in the fourth, scoring the decisive runs in their series-clinching 8-3 victory.
It’s hard to be too disappointed in the series performance by the Huskers. This is still a very incomplete and inconsistent team. There’s no solid Friday starter, and that may have been the difference in this series. It could’ve also been the key to flipping many Friday Nebraska losses this season.
In the end, the Huskers were only outscored 19-16 on the weekend and Purdue is a well-seasoned top 20 team.
On the flip side, this probably was Nebraska’s last chance to make up enough RPI ground to be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Unless Nebraska gets as hot at first baseman/catcher Richard Stock has been and wins nearly all of their remaining games with a good showing in the tournament, the Huskers will need a Big Ten tournament championship and automatic berth.
This will be tough with Purdue looking to cap off their best season ever and out to polish its regional host resume with gusto.
Nebraska’s primary goal, as this column has stated since the Northwestern series debacle, should be to finish second in the conference to earn the Big Ten tournament’s day one bye.
This could set the Huskers up to use Brandon Pierce in the opening game, Zach Hirsch in the second and providing two wins, whoever else is left in the championship game.
2012 is all about building for next season. Getting the right players on the field, providing experience to the depth chart and seasoning the squad while learning how to win again will be key for Erstad’s team heading into the 2013 campaign.
This week sets up perfectly for that, as the Huskers make the trip to TD Ameritrade Park to play in-state rival Creighton before taking a weekend off from B1G play to take on Cal State Bakersfield at Haymarket Park.
AROUND THE B1G
No. 16 Purdue – 12-3 (31-6)
Michigan State – 7-5 (26-13) – 3.5 games back
Minnesota – 7-5 (23-19) – 3.5 games back
Nebraska – 8-7 (26-15) – 4 games back
Indiana – 6-6 (18-22) – 4.5 games back
Penn State – 6-6 (18-21) – 4.5 games back
Ohio State – 7-8 (22-18) – 5 games back
Illinois – 5-7 (22-17) – 5.5 games back
Iowa – 5-7 (16-19) – 5.5 games back
Michigan – 4-8 (17-24) – 6.5 games back
Northwestern – 5-10 (13-23) – 7 games back
Nebraska’s two biggest rivals for second place in the conference, Michigan State and Minnesota, squared off in East Lansing this weekend in a series-long struggle. Weather postponed Friday’s match and Michigan State won game one of the double header in 11 innings by the score of 3-2.
Minnesota countered, with a 4-2 win in game two, before Michigan State won the finale on Sunday 5-4 in 10 innings.
Minnesota and Nebraska will meet this year for a three game series. The Huskers already defeated Minnesota in a non-conference matchup at the Dairy Queen Classic.
Nebraska and Spartans do not play in the regular season this year.
The Gophers avoid Purdue in the regular season, finishing with series against Iowa, Penn State and Illinois in addition to the Huskers.
Michigan State gets its shot against Purdue next weekend before playing Illinois, Iowa and Penn State in series. Husker fans will be rooting for the ‘Makers next weekend to sweep MSU.
Penn State took a series from Iowa, but most exciting was Penn State’s junior pitcher Steven Hill throwing a no-hitter on Saturday while only facing two over the minimum. Iowa’s only win of the week on Sunday snapped Penn State’s five-game winning streak.
Nebraska’s doubleheader sweep of Ohio State sent the Buckeyes into a tailspin, losing a midweek game to Cincinnati and their first two to Illinois in part of a six-game losing streak. They bounced back on Sunday with a 10-4 win over the Illini.
Michigan dropped two games to Northwestern in a Saturday double header, losing 6-5 (11 innings) and 8-5, before bouncing back on Sunday with a 5-4 win.
The Wildcats went 3-1 on the week with an additional victory over Milwaukee to bounce back from a seven game losing streak.
Indiana had a week outside of conference play, getting blown out 21-4 in a midweek match with Louisville before winning two of three against Georgia Southern.
- While Husker hitting was hit-and-miss, Richard Stock was not. He only went 1-for-4 with an RBI while playing catcher on Friday. At first base for games two and three, he hit 7-for-8 with two RBIs, three doubles and a home run. Stock (.383) is .001 behind team hitting leader Michael Pritchard (.384) and has played his way into the every day lineup.
- Chad Christensen is the flip-side of that coin. After hitting near .400 entering conference play, His average dropped to .314 during the dry spell along with his spot in the batting order. Coach Bolt had Christensen batting seventh on Saturday and Sunday.
- The Husker average slipped a bit after facing Purdue’s pitching, now sitting at .314. Opponents are batting .289 against the Huskers.
- Brandon Pierce continues to make the case that he is the best starting pitcher on the staff with his win on Saturday. His 5-1 record and 2.79 ERA lead the regular starters, even though he has only started four games. Teams are only hitting .248 against him.
- Nebraska’s other regular starter, Zach Hirsch, is now 4-3 with a 5.10 ERA. Opponents are hitting .318 against Zach.
- Purdue pushed the team WHIP up to 1.56.
- On the whole, the team ERA is sitting at a high-for-Nebraska 4.14. Opponents ERA against Nebraska is at 6.92.
- Team fielding percentage sits at a .975
- Nebraska returns to action on Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park versus in-state rival Creighton at 7 PM CDT. The game will be televised on NET.
- The Huskers play a three-game non-conference series at Haymarket Park against Cal State Bakersfield with starting pitches at 6:35 PM (Friday), 2:05 PM (Saturday) and 12:05 PM (Sunday) . Saturday’s game will also be aired on NET.