For the third time in two days, the Nebraska baseball team fell by one run to the BYU Cougars.
The Huskers were hoping for a different outcome than the ones the were dealt Friday: a 3-2 loss in game one of a doubleheader and a 7-6 defeat in game two. But in Saturday’s series finale, it was more of the same as Big Red lost 4-3 to drop to 13-21 on the year. All four games of the series were decided by one run. The Cougars fly back to Provo, Utah, with a 20-13 mark.
With starting pitcher Dawson McCarville home sick, freshman reliever Jackson Brockett, who played at Elkhorn South before playing in Georgia for his senior year, made his first start of his career on Saturday. His previous outing, last Sunday in relief against Rutgers, was the furthest he’s gone in a game this season—4.1 innings. He did well that afternoon, allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out four batters without a walk.
Brockett pitched well on Saturday, too. He threw 5.1 innings of scoreless baseball before trouble found him in the sixth, and it was enough to tie the game at 6 after the Huskers had gained a 2-0 lead.
The freshman plunked the leadoff batter, who then was moved to second on a wild pitch. Brock Watkins then knotted the score with a two-run homer. That longball ended Brockett’s outing and sent on reliever Corbin Hawkins, who forced a flyout and groundout to end the inning.
In his first start, Brockett allowed two earned runs and four hits while striking out two and walking one. He didn’t enjoy a strong defensive effort in the game, but that was the case in the first inning when Anderson helped him out with a great play at third. Anderson snagged a sharply ball just above his head, then doubled up a runner at first who was halfway to second.
“I thought he was really good,” Nebraska head coach Will Bolt said of Brockett after the game. “I thought he changed speeds, he attacked the strike zone, it was what we’ve seen from him the last couple of outings. He gave us a great chance to win today.”
After BYU tied the game at 2 in the sixth, the Huskers had another opportunity to retake the lead—and they cashed in on it. Leighton Banjoff, who went 2-for-2 with a walk on Saturday, led off the inning by getting hit, and he was moved to second on an excellent bunt by Efry Cervantes, who reach on the play when the catcher chose to go to second with his throw.
Thanks to a sacrifice bunt from Core Jackson, both runners moved over one bag to put runners on second and third with one out. BYU went to the bullpen to use left-hander Cooper McKeehan for the high-pressure situation. Nebraska converted on the opportunity with a suicide squeeze—Banjoff easily scored from third after taking off for home as soon as McKeehan started his motion to the plate while Jack Steil laid down a sacrifice bunt. With a runner on third, the Huskers couldn’t add to their 3-2 lead as Cam Chick struck out.
Nebraska’s advantage was short-lived, however, as the error reared its ugly head in the seventh. BYU’s Joshua Cowden was able to safely reach first after striking out due to a throwing error to first from catcher Griffin Everitt. A couple two-out singles followed, including leadoff man Ozzie Pratt’s two-run knock to center that put the Cougars up 4-3.
In the eighth, Banjoff connected on a one-out stand-up double. After a strikeout from Cervantes, Banjoff took third on a wild pitch, but Jackson stranded Banjoff with a flyout to left. After a 1-2-3 top of the ninth on the mound from Tyler Martin, the Husker bats got a runner on second thanks to a single from Chick, but a strikeout looking from Garrett Anglim and a groundout from Max Anderson ended the game.
The Huskers committed two errors and now have 10 in their last six games. Each team recorded eight hits in the game. Nebraska went 0-of-8 with runners in scoring position—after Saturday, it’s hitting .244 for the season in that department—and 2-of-14 with runners on.
“Batting average doesn’t show you everything, and walk-to-strikeout shows you a lot more than that,” Bolt said. “But guys who can hit at this level, teams that can hit at this level, they have the plate covered and they’re ready to hit with runners in scoring position. It’s been a broken record, the communication we’ve had, the stuff we’ve worked on as far as not covering the plate and not being ready to hit in those situations and taking strike three at times, and just beat on pitches away.
“If you want to hit at this level and you want to score runs at this level, you have to be able to do that.”
For Chick, a team captain who went 3-for-4 at the plate, he’s running out of things to tell his teammates after so many one-run losses.
“At some point it’s kind of hard to keep telling them the same thing, but we just have to be able to finish and close out,” Chick said. “It seems like we’re playing a good seven innings, and then at the end of the game we can’t figure it out or we can’t close it out.”
The Husker bats got to BYU starter Janzen Keisel early. Chick led off the bottom of the first with a solo shot to right field that traveled an estimated 455 feet. Then in the third, Steil, the nine-hole hitter, connected on his first home run of the season. Steil’s longball barely made it over the out-stretched arm of BYU’s right fielder, Ryan Sepede, but the ball made its way into the Cougars’ bullpen nonetheless to give Nebraska an early 2-0 advantage.
In the fifth, Chick led off with a single to shallow right. He was moved to second by a single to left from Anglim, but was out at third due to a force on a short hopper to third for the first out. Everitt was plunked shortly after to load the bases, but the Cougars got out of the inning unscathed thanks to Nick Wimmers grounding into a double play.
“Right now, we’re just beating ourself in all honestly,” Chick said. “And that’s the most frustrating part, is we get the lead, we have leads in most of our games, and we just keep letting it go.”
Up next for Nebraska is a Wednesday home contest against North Dakota State (20-10).