Ouch. Just ouch. That really hurt.
The Nebraska baseball team let opportunity slip through its hands, or more accurately its gloves, at Penn State on Thursday night, committing four errors, including two in the ninth inning, allowing the Nittany Lions to score three unearned runs for an 8-7 victory.
They also scored an unearned run in the eighth.
Nebraska went into the game ranked fourth in the Big Ten in fielding percentage (.978). The Huskers had committed 41 errors in 50 games. They had committed as many as three errors just three times this season, losing to Maryland but overcoming them in victories against Omaha and Iowa.
The Huskers had committed a combined eight errors in their previous six Big Ten games.
Nebraska began Thursday’s game in position to win the Big Ten regular-season title and the top seed in the conference tournament, of course. It needed to sweep Penn State, which had won only three of 21 Big Ten games, and have Purdue win at least one of three games at Minnesota.
The Boilermakers were leading Minnesota 5-2 when power went out at Siebert Field in the middle of the seventh inning. In addition, third-place Michigan lost to Michigan State.
Things were falling into place.
Nebraska showed its resiliency, rallying from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits and scoring three runs in the top of the eighth to take a 7-4 lead, only to see it dissolve in the unearned runs.
Jake Meyers returned to the lineup in center field, going 2-for-2, with three walks, scoring four runs and driving in two – the first on a home run to lead off the game.
Angelo Altavilla went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs, as did Scott Schreiber.
The disastrous ninth went like this.
Reliever Chad Luensmann walked the first Penn State batter, the second reached on an error by Altavilla, who had moved to third base with Brison Cronenbold entering the game at shortstop, a position switch Coach Darin Erstad has regularly made in the late innings.
A double drove in one run, but a second runner was cut down at home plate.
The next batter grounded out, with a runner moving to third and scoring when the next batter reached on an error by first baseman Ben Miller.
The winning run scored on a two-out double, on an 0-2 count.
Senior right-hander Derek Burkamper (5-4, 3.32) is slated to pitch for Nebraska in the second game of the series on Friday, game time 5:30 p.m. (CT). Penn State will counter with sophomore right-hander Justin Hagenman (1-10, 5.85).
Nebraska could still win the regular-season title with two victories. But it’s considerably more of a longshot. Thursday’s Purdue-Minnesota game was postponed at about 10 p.m. (CT).
Because of the weather forecast, Purdue and Minnesota were slated to complete Thursday’s game on Friday and then play a double-header to complete the series in one day.
Minnesota would have to lose at least two of those games.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.