LINCOLN – Against average opponents, a few mistakes may not kill a team. Against the preseason conference favorite with a pivotal series win on the line, even one can be the difference.
Nebraska made a few more than that against No. 17 Indiana on Monday at Haymarket Park.
The Hoosiers scored 10 runs on 11 hits and nine Nebraska walks to take a 2-1 series victory and drop the Huskers one game back in the Big Ten standings with six games left to play. But the Huskers’ struggles on the mound were only half the story.
Indiana (36-9, 13-5) got a stellar outing out of starter Aaron Slegers. The sophomore threw 8.1 innings, striking out three and, most importantly, walking none in the win.
“They walked zero, we walked nine — end of story,” Erstad said summing up a frustrating loss for the Huskers.
Before getting back-to-back hits to leadoff the ninth, Nebraska (21-25, 12-6) managed just two hits over the first eight innings off Slegers and put just six runners on base.
“He’s a tall guy (and) he’s got a good angle to his fastball,” Erstad said of the 6-10 Slegers. “It’s very difficult to get your barrel behind the baseball of a guy who’s pitching down in the zone. He didn’t even have to use his off-speed stuff too much.”
Indiana, on the other hand, put the leadoff man on in seven out of nine innings, five times via walk or a Nebraska error. In a sign of things to come, the Hoosiers claimed a 1-0 lead in the first inning without recording a hit when centerfielder Justin Cureton walked to leadoff the game, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly and scored on a passed ball.
But Indiana can hit when given the opportunity too. Holding a 2-0 lead in the fifth, designated hitter Kyle Schwarber walked to leadoff the inning, chasing Nebraska starter Aaron Bummer from the game. Reliever Ryan Hander retired the next two batters before giving up a single to shortstop Michael Basil to put runners on the corners. Third baseman Dustin DeMuth broke the game open, ripping a 2-2 pitch to right for a three-run homer. It was Indiana’s fourth home run of the series. DeMuth finished the day 2-for-5 at the plate with four RBIs and two runs scored.
The closest Nebraska came to threatening the Hoosiers was in the bottom of the eighth when right fielder Austin Darby reached on a throwing error to leadoff the inning. The next batter, shortstop Bryan Peters grounded sharply to third and it looked like DeMuth’s throw pulled second baseman Nick Ramos off the bag. The umpire called Darby out, drawing Erstad out of the dugout to argue to no avail. Sanguinetti singled later in the inning to put two on, but Slegers got Michael Pritchard to fly out to end the inning.
Nebraska pieced together four hits in the ninth – two off Slegers and two off reliever Scott Effross – to score two cosmetic runs. Bummer (1-1) took the loss for Nebraska, walking five and giving up three earned runs over four innings.
The loss gave Indiana sole possession of second place in the Big Ten behind 11-4 Minnesota. Nebraska sits in third at 12-6 pending the result of Monday’s Northwestern-Ohio State game.
That sets the stage for another key three-game series for the Huskers next week as Nebraska visits Minnesota. Erstad said Nebraska will have to hone its focus if it expects a different result next weekend.
“(We) still have a chance at the two-seed,” Erstad said. “There’s still six games left so who knows what can happen? At the end of the day, I’m more concerned about how we’re going about our business.”
Nebraska opens the series against the Gophers at 3:05 p.m. on Friday, May 10 followed by afternoon games on both Saturday and Sunday. All three games will be streamed live at BTN.com.