AUSTIN, Texas - These are certainly strange times for the Nebraska baseball team. After being carried by the Big Ten's best offense last year (only seven teams scored more runs nationally), the hitters were arguably NU's most glaring weakness all weekend in Austin. That was certainly the case on Sunday, when NU scratched out just two hits and put only four men on base in a 2-0 loss to Texas, sending the Huskers to an 0-7 start to the season.
The production at the plate was especially disheartening because, unlike last year, the Nebraska starters did their part this weekend. After strong starts by Brandon Pierce on Friday and Christian DeLeon on Saturday, Ryan Hander submitted a quality start Sunday. But his best efforts weren't enough to get NU in the win column.
"Trying to put a positive spin on 0-7, I'm not sure if that's possible," coach Darin Erstad said. "But to say our starting pitching was our strength of the weekend and we get swept? It doesn't make much sense, does it? It's one of those things. You win and you lose and we're losing in bunches right now. It's not like we got outclassed. We were in the position and from an execution standpoint, I need to do a better job of keeping them in control to do those things."
After being shut out just once all of last season, Nebraska has suffered two shutouts in its opening seven games. Other than a pair of two-out singles by Bryan Peters and Pat Kelly, the Huskers were completely handcuffed by Texas hurler Nathan Thornhill. Thornhill didn't dominate the Huskers with dazzling off-speed pitches or sinkers. He came at them time and time again with his fastball, but Nebraska couldn't seem to find any open spots on the field.
Nebraska hit .223 as a team during the three-game series, scoring just five runs and walking seven times. For an offense that punished pitchers with regularity last season, the slow start certainly comes as a surprise. But Erstad is confident his team will find its way and said he won't hit the panic button.
"If I hit that button, they'll hit that button, and that's just not going to happen," he said. "We're going to continue to work on what we do. We believe in our offensive system, we've played great defense and our pitching has shown signs of handling some very tough situations. Obviously, you want to win. That's number one. But if you're going to play these types of games and keep your composure and find the guys that can do that, those are the guys that are going to be successful in the long run. That's what this (schedule) was designed to do."
That schedule, which is significantly tougher than the one the Huskers faced last season, was questioned by some before the season began. With the team struggling and some hitters appearing to press, no one would blame Erstad for saying he might have made a mistake in strengthening the nonconference slate so much.
But Erstad remains convinced that NU will see its way through the struggles and once it comes out the other side, the squad will be better for it.
"It's definitely a fine line as far as throwing too much at them and getting them discouraged," he said. "But at the same time, I want our guys to see what it looks like, where we're going, what we have to face so those offseason conditioning drills and every rep we take means something. Now they're seeing what we're going against. Until we see what it's like and get over that, I don't think we're going to get to where we want as a program.
"It's no fun on the front end of it and they probably can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can. I'm in this for the long haul. It's tough at the beginning, but I know where this is going."
Around the horn
***Hander tied a career high with seven strikeouts. The junior gave up eight hits in six innings, but he didn't walk a single batter and gave up only two runs. He stranded six runners during the game, four of whom were in scoring position.
***Nebraska has just one home run this season, a bomb hit by Tanner Lubach in the season opener.
***Reliever Caleb Hawkins has begun his Nebraska career with three scoreless outings. The junior got two outs on Sunday without allowing a base runner.
***Nebraska hit into five double plays on the weekend.