All season long, the Huskers have struggled to put a strong hitting and pitching performance together at the same time. After losing game one of Saturday's doubleheader to No. 24 Oklahoma State, Nebraska couldn't get anything going in game two.
Still struggling with the after-effects of offseason hip surgery, Tyler Niederklein gamely battled through a season-high five innings, striking out five and keeping the Cowboys off the scoreboard. But the senior issued a walk to lead off the sixth and NU's bullpen couldn't hang on as the Huskers fell 4-0 in game two at TD Ameritrade Park.
"Here's the deal - yeah, (OSU starter Tyler Nurdin) pitched very well and hit his spots very well," coach Darin Erstad said. "But when we're making the same outs over and over and lunging at pitches away when he's doing that, that's a problem. The constant fight that we've been so good at, we just didn't have that in the second game. When a guy is on, that's what's going to happen. He'll carve you up."
Niederklein's performance was without a doubt the highlight of game two. The senior from Millard West hadn't thrown more than four innings in a game this season and struggled mightily in a relief appearance against Kansas State on Tuesday. But Niederklein was on top of his game Saturday, throwing 87 pitches in five-plus innings. He gave up four hits and walked three, but the Cowboys never put a significant threat on him.
"Nieds did great. He just ran out of gas," Erstad said. "We haven't been in position to extend him that far out with his hip. But he battled and did a nice job. But again, we fall into that pattern of pitching good and not hitting. It's like 'OK, we're pitching good, we can wait around to hit.' Or we give up eight runs in the second inning and the next thing you know, it's 9-8. We're very reactive when it comes to that stuff instead of the constant pressure. We've shown we can do it, but we have to make it constant pressure."
Nebraska's offense simply wasn't there to back him up. The Huskers were shut out for the fifth time this year and the first time since March 17 against UC Irvine. Nebraska mustered just four hits, all singles. NU's one major threat came in the sixth inning when Taylor Fish and Rich Sanguinetti collected hits to put runners on second and third with two outs. But Chad Christensen grounded out to second.
Nurdin had his best start of the season. The sophomore went the distance on 94 pitches and continued NU's struggles against left-handed pitchers this year.
"We've hit more fly balls in this series than we have in I think the last three weeks combined," Erstad said. "From a straight approach standpoint, I've been disappointed in our approach against lefties. I've seen way too many off-balance swings and pop-ups. That tells me that there is something on that we have to get fixed."
Niederklein held up as long as he could, but once he tired NU sputtered. Jeff Chesnut relieved him in the sixth and allowed the inherited runner to score, then gave up a run himself. In the next inning Chesnut gave up a home run to Rich Stover, just the fourth long ball hit in TD Ameritrade Park this year.
The string of losses essentially kills any hope Nebraska had of making the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid. But thanks to a strong conference record, the Huskers still can make a case that an NCAA bid is theirs for the taking.
"The way it sets up now, I'm glad this happened now and not when we really need it on a conference weekend," Erstad said.
Nebraska will take on Rutgers in the weekend finale Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Around the horn
***NU is now 5-2 in the second game of doubleheaders this season.
***Nebraska didn't issue a walk until the third inning of game two.