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February 15, 2013

NU drops opener 9-4 at CSU Bakersfield

Nebraska vs. CSU Bakersfield Box Score

Starting pitching doomed the Huskers Friday in their season-opening 9-4 loss to Cal State Bakersfield.

Nebraska starter Brandon Pierce was only able to go two innings before Husker coach Darin Erstad decided to pull the junior from the game. Pierce gave up five runs - all earned - on six hits over his two innings of work. A couple hit batsmen and some trouble keeping his pitches low in the strike zone hurt the junior, according to Erstad.

"Whoever wins down in the zone is going to win the game, and Brandon (Pierce) was up in the zone," the coach said. "I don't care how good your stuff is, if it is sky high, you are going to get knocked around the ballpark."

Nebraska replaced Pierce with junior reliever Luke Bublitz for the third inning. He was able to slow Bakersfield down and keep the Huskers within striking distance through the middle innings.

"I thought his breaking ball was pretty sharp, and he pitched well," Erstad said. "So there's a lot of positives to go along with some negatives."

Offensively, the Huskers got out of the gate quickly, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning of the game. Designated hitter Michael Pritchard started the inning with an infield single, and after center fielder Rich Sanguinetti failed to advance him with a bunt, a couple more singles from left fielder Chad Christensen and first baseman Kash Kalkowski scored Nebraska's first run of the season. A sacrifice fly off the bat of third baseman Josh Scheffert made it 2-0 Nebraska after the top of the first, but that would be the only lead of the day for the Huskers.

Bakersfield starter Jeff McKenzie settled into the game after his bumpy first inning. The junior ace ended up throwing six innings for the Roadrunners, allowing just three runs on five hits and striking out six. He had the Husker hitters off balance with a mixture of fastball location and breaking pitches, according to Erstad.

"Their guy doesn't throw nearly as hard (as Pierce), but he was down in the zone, he mixed his pitches, and there's the ballgame," Erstad said.

After hitting .315 as a team and averaging over seven runs scored per game a year ago, Nebraska's offense didn't get off to the kind of start Erstad thought it was capable of. Missed opportunities and ten stranded base runners cost the Huskers chances to extend innings, but Erstad liked the Husker approach.

"We didn't capitalize on those opportunities," Erstad said. "But again, we talk about putting guys in position to score with less than two outs, and you are going to be successful. We have to maintain that type of pressure the entire game, and I think we will."

Christensen was the lone Husker to notch multiple hits, going 3 for 4 and recording a run scored. Sophomore Tanner Lubach - who won a three way battle for the starting spot at catcher - was another highlight for the Huskers with his solo home run in the fourth inning.

"It was a nice job of staying back on an off-speed pitch," Erstad said of the blast. "When you have a opposite gap type of approach, and you get a pitch, you can do that kind of thing."

Nebraska made an attempt at a rally in the eighth inning when a pair of doubles cut the Bakersfield lead to three and put a man on second with only one out. But a fly out and a strikeout ended the threat for the Roadrunners.

There won't be much time for Nebraska to lick its wounds before it gets back on the field. The team will take a bus to Los Angeles tomorrow morning for a pair of games with No. 22 ranked Cal State Fullerton at 4 and 7 p.m. CT. They will follow those games with one more against USC to finish the weekend on Sunday.

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