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April 14, 2013

Huskers' comeback falls short in 7-4 loss to OSU

Nebraska vs. Ohio State game 3 box score

For seven innings Sunday, Nebraska was absolutely handcuffed by Ohio State hurler Brian King, who had a history of toying with the Huskers. He ended NU's season last year with six solid innings in the Big Ten Tournament to send Nebraska home.

But he made that performance look like child's play Sunday. Nebraska had just three hits, all singles, in his seven shutout innings and didn't advance a runner past first base.

Once King exited, Nebraska made a late charge and had the winning run at the plate with the bases loaded in the ninth. But sophomore Pat Kelly popped out to the first baseman to give Ohio State a 7-5 win. The defeat dropped NU to 14-19 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten.

"You can't tell me our guys just wanted to turn it on at the end," coach Darin Erstad said. "That guy pitched well. King established both sides of the plate, changed speeds and had us off balance. I asked our guys, 'What's the deal here? We're hitting more fly balls than we've ever hit.' They were like, 'We're trying to stay flat.' He was making them take good swings. As soon as they brought another guy in, it was back to normal and we gave them a fight there. That just shows me that their pitcher was doing something good.

"We just got flat out beat. On your home field, that's not easy to take. But they did it and you have to tip your hat."

After falling behind 7-0 in the top of the eighth, any chance at a Nebraska victory appeared to have vanished. The Huskers scored once in the bottom of the frame, but it appeared all that run would do is save the team from the embarrassment of a shutout.

But the offense awoke in the ninth, as the first two hitters singled and Kash Kalkowski was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Josh Scheffert and Blake Headley both had run-scoring singles and, after a Tanner Lubach line out, Austin Darby flew out to deep left, scoring Kalkowski from third.

Rich Sanguinetti walked to load the bases for Kelly with a 7-4 score. But the second baseman fell behind 0-2 and got under a pitch by OSU closer Trace Dempsey to end the game.

The late offense highlighted just how dominant King's outing was. Nebraska is hitting well over .300 in conference play, but the lefty allowed just five base runners and struck out three on 90 pitches.

"He's your typical Sunday lefty - he throws about 86 (miles per hour) with a curveball and a changeup," Michael Pritchard said. "He was just making pitches today and we were swinging under them. He was on today and we weren't until the last inning."

The series loss was the first for the Huskers in Big Ten play this year and the first time they have dropped back-to-back games since March 20. Erstad said he had a feeling the Buckeyes would make some noise in the conference this year and wants his team to be prepared to face them again sometime down the road.

"They're my sleeper pick in the Big Ten," Erstad said. "That was the best top-to-bottom rotation we've seen in the Big Ten. They've got quality starters and a very deep bullpen. If they're not going to make errors, they're going to win some ball games. We're going to have to find a way to get past them because I have a feeling we're going to see them again at some point."

Sunday standouts

***Josh Scheffert - in his first start since injuring his elbow three weeks ago at Illinois, Scheffert walked an had an RBI single in the ninth inning that kept Nebraska's hopes alive.

***Ryan Hander - pulled from the weekend rotation, Hander gave up just one run in his 3.2 innings to keep the game close as NU's offense sputtered. Hander struck out five and gave up just three hits.

Around the horn

***Erstad said the plan was to get pitcher Kyle Kubat some action on Tuesday. The sophomore hasn't pitched yet this season due to arm soreness, but warmed up in the eighth Sunday. Due to the game's score, the coaches chose to save Kubat.

"We'll see where it's at and hopefully get him out on the mound Tuesday," Erstad said.

***After winning their first eight home games of the season, NU has lost two in a row.

***Tyler King's start (2.1 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run) was far from spectacular, but it was much better than his outing against Ohio State last year. Facing the Buckeyes last April 13, King gave up seven earned runs while getting just one out. The Huskers went on to lose 10-2.

***Kalkowski was hit by a pitch for the second straight day, his 15th of the season.

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