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March 18, 2012

NU comes up short in clutch situations, falls 6-5

Nebraska vs. La. Tech Game 4

In a season filled with comebacks and clutch hitting, the Huskers ran out of both Sunday, losing 6-5 to Louisiana Tech to drop to 14-7.

The loss didn't come from lack of opportunities. The Huskers stranded two runners in the fifth, sixth seventh and eighth innings and had a runner on second with one out in the ninth.

But they just couldn't muster up the magic Sunday and missed an opportunity to sweep the four-game set with the Bulldogs.

"When you put yourself in a position to have the opportunity to score, you're going to score, but sometimes you're not," coach Darin Erstad said. "Today was exactly the same as a lot of the other games. We had those opportunities, but we didn't do it today. That's baseball."

Junior Tyler Niederklien struggled right out of the gate, giving up three runs in the first inning and another in the second. Although he settled down and kept Louisiana Tech off the board after that, he was pulled after giving up seven hits and walking three batters in four innings.

"He's just not throwing strikes," Erstad said. "He was all over the place. When you don't command your fastball and you're down 2-0 or 3-1 to every hitter, you're not going to be effective. He just didn't make pitches."

The offense was quiet early, but exploded for five runs in the bottom of the fourth, the final two coming on freshman Pat Kelly's second home run of the year.

But the Bulldogs responded immediately, tagging sophomore Luke Bublitz for two runs in the top of the fifth for what would end up being the final margin.

The Huskers had their chances, but came up short in the situations they've owned for most of this year. The missed opportunities in the final two innings hurt them the most. A double by junior Rich Sanguinetti put runners on second and third with one out in the eighth. Sophomore outfielder Michael Pritchard sprayed what appeared to be a hit down the third-base line, but the umpire called it foul. Pritchard then struck out on a questionable third strike and junior Chad Christensen, he of the 16 two-out RBIs this year, grounded out to the shortstop to strand the runners.

"It's kind of hard to swallow right now," Christensen said. "We had a lot of guys on base. We had opportunities, but we just never got that big hit that we needed."

Travis Huber walked the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, but worked his way out of the jam to keep the Huskers within one run. Junior Josh Scheffert led off the bottom half of the inning with a single to center and Kurt Farmer moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt.

But freshman Austin Darby lined out to second base and Kale Kiser popped out to strand NU's 12th runner on the day.

"More times than not, we're going to get that hit with runners on base," Kelly said. "Today was one of the days it didn't happen for us. But as a team, we battled. Today it just didn't work out."

Although he wasn't happy with the final outcome, Erstad liked that his players got opportunities to play in tough situations, unlike the previous three games when NU blew the Bulldogs out. Both Kelly and Christensen said the team never lost confidence, and Erstad believes that attitude will lead to success in those positions down the road.

"It's a work in progress," Erstad said. "It's good to have those pressure situations and let those guys feel what it's like to control their breathing and get tight at the plate and learn to control their emotions. We've done a great job of that. We'll move on and get them on Tuesday."

Around the horn

***Scheffert reached base in all five of his at-bats. He had two hits, two walks and reached on an error. He's now reached base in each of his last 12 at-bats after going 5-for-5 Saturday and 2-for-2 Friday.

***Freshman Kyle Kubat will get the start for the Huskers Tuesday against Northern Colorado and Sophomore Zach Hirsch will start Wednesday.



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