OMAHA, Neb. — A Twitter call for church-related puns started with some promise, then largely went unanswered. That felt like as good a metaphor as any for the Huskers’ day in Omaha. It wasn’t a Sunday, but Creighton starter Preston Church was preaching on the mound; Nebraska had nothing but a prayer until he sat down. Church took the Huskers to chap-he… okay, nevermind, that’s enough.
But how else do you spice up a snoozefest of a day for the Huskers (13-12, 1-2 Big Ten)? The scoreless inning streak reached 20 frames and Nebraska dropped the first of three meetings with the Jays (13-6) this season, 3-1.
“Threw strikes, didn’t give us anything,” head coach Darin Erstad said of Creighton's starter. “Guy that hasn’t thrown strikes really, and he didn’t walk anybody, didn’t give anything and you have to create your own offense and we didn’t do that.”
Nebraska opened the night with back-to-back hits and things looked like they were going to break. Then, Church happened; the lefty sat down three straight to end the inning — the moment he said his confidence kicked in — and retired another six straight Nebraska batters over the course of the next two innings. In three of his six full frames of work, Nebraska went down in order. Church was on his way to doing it again in the seventh — sitting down the first two Huskers he saw — before having his day called.
“Previously I haven’t really had very good fastball command and that’s pretty much what I base my pitching off of is just making sure I can spot up my fastball,” Church said. “Tonight I had it and everything just worked off of that … As long as I just kept throwing strikes, they were going to get themselves out.”
They did. Twelve flyouts, four groundouts and three strikeouts with no extra-base hits was all the Huskers had to show for their efforts against Church.
Still, the Huskers were in the thick of things until the bottom of the eighth. Starter Nate Fisher was solid — four-and-two-thirds pitched, four hits, one earned — and reliever Mike Waldron was as good as Erstad could have hoped for until that eighth. Waldron fanned the first but three hits — one of them a costly double — and two insurance runs later, Waldron’s night was done.
“Mike was doing well and outside of leaving one pitch out over the plate there for the double, I thought he pitched really well,” Erstad said.
Nebraska was able to bring one across in the ninth to prevent the shutout, halt the scoreless inning streak, and save some face with its in-state rivals, but nothing else. Creighton was in control most of the evening. Erstad wasn’t in the mood to mince words when asked what went wrong offensively after the game.
“All of it,” he said. “Right now, we’re not swinging the bat well enough that when teams aren’t giving us free bases we’re not scoring. That’s where it’s at.”
Maybe there’s a lineup change to be made to try and spark some scoring, but that’ll come later.
“We’ll have a psychological analysis probably tomorrow and see where everybody’s at mentally,” Erstad said. “You can see a few guys are just trying entirely too hard and when you do that, bad things happen. It’s just getting back to the fundamentals."
Leadoff man Zac Repinski (1-for-4) has two hits in his last 15 plate appearances. Infielder Angelo Altavilla (0-for-4) has one hit in his last 19.
“We’ve got to find some pieces to step up," Erstad said. "Fill some holes and get some guys that have swung the bat well for us in the past, get ‘em going.”
Nebraska will have to figure things out sooner rather than later; conference play just opened and the Huskers have upcoming road series with Ohio State (March 30-April 1) and Michigan State (April 6-8) before returning to Lincoln.
“You’re going to struggle offensively at certain times during the year, right now is one of those times,” Erstad said. “You’ve just got to wear it and keep working hard.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.