In one of the biggest series of the year, Nebraska baseball fell terribly flat.
The Huskers traveled to Iowa this weekend to take on the Hawkeyes, one of two remaining opponents with a RPI ranking inside the top 100. Given that Nebraska had accumulated a number of bad losses, a quality opponent such as this one gave a chance for the team to improve its resume for the NCAA postseason.
Instead, Iowa dominated. All three Husker starting pitchers struggled, and the offense scored one run across the final two games. They lost 11-6 on Friday, 8-0 on Saturday and 6-1 in the Sunday finale.
The Hawkeyes were powered by strong pitching and a number of big innings. By the end of the third inning in each game, they had recorded a frame of three or more runs and led by multiple scores. That was “the story of the weekend,” according to Nebraska head coach Will Bolt.
“The way that Iowa’s team is built, it’s hard to kind of chase runs against their pitching staff,” Bolt said postgame Sunday on Huskers Radio Network. “That’s kind of what we had to do over the entire weekend, and that’s a tough way to live.”
Iowa set the tone early on Friday against Nebraska ace Emmett Olson. In the bottom of the second inning, a sacrifice bunt scored the first run. Then, the Hawkeyes ripped off four consecutive two-out hits, the third a three-run homer to make it a five-run inning.
Olson exited after 2.1 innings pitched, walking one batter and hitting another in the third inning before Corbin Hawkins took the mound. Hawkins slowed down Iowa up through the sixth inning, only allowing one more run to score in the fourth. This allowed Nebraska to crawl back a bit, as Hawkeye starter Brody Brecht met struggles of his own.
Brecht walked two Huskers in the fourth inning, putting both in scoring position with a wild pitch. He struck out the next two, but couldn’t get out of the frame before another wild pitch and a single brought in a run each. Brecht’s day finally ended after his 102nd pitch of the day, as he loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the fifth. Nebraska added two more runs via hit-by-pitch and sacrifice fly, cutting the deficit down to a respectable 6-4.
Iowa wasn’t done, however. With Jake Bunz pitching in the seventh inning, it loaded the bases and then converted five more runs after the Huskers switched to Shay Schanaman. The 11-4 advantage stayed until Nebraska scored two more runs with two outs in the ninth inning.
Saturday went similarly for the Hawkeye offense, but not the Huskers. Jace Kaminska, back in the rotation after a week off, gave up four hits and a walk in a three-run third inning. He walked the first batter in the bottom of the fourth, then was taken out in favor of Jackson Brockett. Brockett did well, then was replaced by Michael Garza late in the fifth inning. Garza allowed four runs — three earned — in the bottom of the sixth as Iowa hit three doubles in the frame.
Nebraska was able to get runners on base in seven of nine innings, but never converted as it was shutout for the first time this season.
Brice Matthews ensured that wouldn’t happen again during the first at-bat on Sunday, hitting a home run to give Nebraska its first lead of the series. Only three Husker hits followed throughout the rest of the game, however, and Iowa had the lead back after a three-run second inning.
As was the case in games one and two, there wasn’t much drama down the stretch. The Hawkeyes secured their lead with three more runs in the sixth inning, and two of Nebraska’s last three frames ended with double plays.
The offense never got going on the weekend, and pitching wasn’t up to standard. Olson and Kaminska had appeared to be a strong starting pair, but both have strung together multiple poor appearances now.
Nebraska takes on Omaha on Tuesday, once again looking to prevent a season sweep. The Mavericks won the first two midweek meetings. Then, the Huskers will play a Wednesday matchup with South Dakota State before their weekend series at home against Minnesota.
Nebraska’s also lost its lead in the Big Ten standings, remaining in the upper half but with a lot of company. The head coach was disappointed by this weekend’s showing, but seems to have accepted it and is ready to move forward.
“There’s weekends like this, unfortunately, that happen from time to time in college baseball. Even the best teams have weekends like this, and Iowa played really well,” Bolt said. “They played at a really high level this weekend, took it to us and we got to kind of look inward as what we’re going to do moving forward to be the team that we’re capable of being. Baseball’s a funny game. I mean, this time last weekend, we couldn’t have felt any better. So you just got to flush it and you got to be ready to move on. We got a big week ahead.”