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March 17, 2013

Bats, mental errors cost Huskers in finale

For the third time this weekend, Nebraska's pitching put it in a position to win.

Unfortunately, the Husker bats took advantage in just one of those contests, a 4-1 win over UC Irvine Saturday. While the offense certainly showed signs of life in that victory, NU fell back into its old habits Sunday, losing 2-0 to the Anteaters to drop the squad to 6-11 on the year.

Brandon Pierce faced pressure in nearly every inning, but he managed to escape most of the jams he faced and gave the Huskers a chance to win. UC Irvine struck first on an RBI double by Dominique Taylor in the third inning, but Pierce stranded Taylor at second.

The Anteaters' second run came in much more painful fashion. With Taylor at third with two outs in the fifth, catcher Tanner Lubach overthrew Pierce on a simple throw to the mound, allowing Taylor to score. Pierce, Caleb Hawkins, Aaron Bummer and Dylan Vogt kept UC Irvine off the board the rest of the way, pitching out of multiple tight situations and stranding seven Anteater runners.

"These parks on West Coast are built for pitching and defense and we did a nice job of throwing strikes and mixing our pitches up," Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "We got out of a couple of jams, but I think we pitched behind a little too often today. But for the most part over the weekend, that was good enough to win a series. We have to find a way to score runs and we'll continue to work on that."

The offense simply couldn't get enough going to support the pitching effort. Facing Andrew Morales, who came into the game with a nation-leading five wins, Nebraska squandered what few opportunities it did have. Though the Huskers had just four hits, they managed to strand three runners in scoring position.

It was the fourth time NU has been shut out this year and the sixth time it has been held to two runs or fewer.

"It's disappointing," Erstad said. "The guys grinded out all their at-bats all weekend and today they just ran out of steam at the end, and that just can't happen. We're here trying to build mental toughness by playing quality opponents. We took another tough loss today."

Nebraska will start a two-game series against Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. The Huskers already lost twice to the No. 8 Titans earlier in the season, but Erstad said Nebraska won't view this as a revenge series. They will take on Cal State Fullerton just as they would with any other opponent.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing," he said. "We have to go out there with the same effort and attitude and intensity and focus that we need to have. It doesn't matter who the opponent is. If we don't play our game, we're going to get beat. These guys need to learn that they need to bring it every day. They've shown better signs of that, but we have to be consistent every day we come out.

"When we get to conference play, there is going to be no room for error. That's what we're trying to get through to these guys, and we're making progress. But we just definitely need to find a way to score more runs."



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