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May 11, 2013

NU loses 4-3, misses chance to tie for Big Ten lead

When Northwestern beat Indiana Saturday afternoon, the Huskers were presented with a golden opportunity. If it beat Minnesota, Nebraska would be tied with the Hoosiers atop the Big Ten conference with just four league games left, giving NU a great chance of securing a top two seed in the conference tournament.

Early on, it looked like the Huskers would do exactly that. Nebraska scored a pair of runs in the first and had ace Kyle Kubat on the mound. But NU was never able to pull away and Minnesota clawed back, eventually taking the lead on an RBI single in the eighth inning to win 4-3 in Minneapolis. The loss dropped Nebraska to 22-26 overall and 13-7 in the Big Ten.

"We just had too many mental mistakes," coach Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "You're going to lose games, but I don't like to lose on our terms. If we get beat, we get beat. But we had base running mistakes, we missed a hit-and-run sign, we couldn't get a bunt down… I just didn't see a crisp effort. I'm just disappointed."

It was Minnesota that was making all the mistakes in the first inning. The Golden Gophers committed three errors, but NU couldn't take full advantage, scoring two runs but leaving two men on.

The Nebraska miscues piled up from there. Minnesota scored its first run in the second on a passed ball by Taylor Fish and a pair of wild pitches helped the Gophers score two more to take the lead in the third. Nebraska rebounded to tie the game when Austin Darby ripped a two-out triple to score Blake Headley in the top of the fourth, but the offensive highlights ended there.

With two outs in the fifth, Chad Christensen singled to center with Michael Pritchard on first base. Because of the 3-2 count, Pritchard got a running start and made it to third easily. But he then appeared to have some miscommunication with third base coach Will Bolt and took off for home, where he was thrown out to end the inning.

Then after Darby led off the seventh with a single, Fish popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt. Darby would eventually be stranded at second.

"I just didn't feel like we were in control of our game," Erstad said. "As good as it was yesterday, I think it was kind of the opposite today."

Minnesota couldn't take advantage of NU's errors until the eighth, when pinch hitter Mark Tatera singled off of Josh Roeder to drive in the go-ahead run. Although Roeder escaped further damage, all three NU hitters struck out in the top of the ninth to end the game.

The two teams will play again tomorrow with much at stake as far as conference tournament seeding goes. Minnesota moved into first place with the win, but the Huskers could possibly reverse that with a victory.

"We've got to go win a series," Erstad said. "They've got another very quality pitcher we're going to have to face. We have to have more competitive at-bats. As much as we battled in the first game, I was very disappointed with our effort. We're going to have to be a lot better to win the series."

Saturday standouts

***Austin Darby: The offense may have struggled, but don't blame Darby. The sophomore, mired in a deep slump, broke out on Saturday with three hits, one of which was an RBI triple.

***Kyle Kubat: The sophomore wasn't electric as he was in his first four starts, but Kubat's stats are somewhat deceiving. Kubat was victimized by a passed balls and a pair of wild pitches that arguably could have been corralled which directly contributed to two runs. Kubat battled through six innings, struck out four and ultimately gave the Huskers a chance to win although he clearly didn't have his best stuff.

Around the horn

***The Huskers lost for the first time with Kubat on the mound this year. Nebraska had won the lefty's first four starts.

***Rich Sanguinetti reached on an error in the first inning, extending his on-base streak to 32 games. That just kept me ahead of Pritchard, whose streak improved to 31 games.

***Nebraska has just one steal in its past eight games.



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