In each of the last two games against California, the Huskers fell behind in the early innings but battled back to either tie the game or take the lead late. That formula resulted in an extra-inning loss Friday and a blowout win Saturday.
They tried to use the same strategy Sunday, but this time NU just couldn't mount the comeback as it fell 4-0 to the Bears.
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"They battle. They grind. That's what they do," coach Darin Erstad said. "They've gotten the lead every single time, and you just cannot play from behind constantly. They have set the tone and we've responded, but that's a dangerous way to play baseball because this is what's going to happen sometimes."
The NU offense, which pounded out 28 hits and scored 20 times in the first two games of the series, could only muster three on Sunday. The Huskers didn't record a hit until junior designated hitter Kash Kalkowski reached on a single with two outs in the seventh inning.
The Huskers had just one hit that came with fewer than two outs in an inning.
The sputtering offense spoiled a good outing from Tom Lemke, who surrendered three runs over 6.2 innings. The junior gave up nine hits but didn't walk a batter.
All four Cal runs came with two outs.
"He pitched great," Erstad said of Lemke. "We were a little concerned with the colder weather with his arm. We didn't know how it would respond. He did a fantastic job of keeping his focus and keeping us in the game. That's going to get us a lot of wins if we take care of the other side of the baseball like we can."
But Lemke didn't want to hear any praise after the game. He was disappointed about missing a few spots with two outs that led to Bear scores.
"Losing sucks," he said. "I made a couple mistakes and they took advantage. Ultimately, that's what it came down to. I've got to be better than that."
The Huskers' best scoring chance came in the eighth inning. Senior catcher Sam Stucky drove a pitch to deep center, but it was caught on the warning track. Senior Kale Kiser, who was the only Husker to reach base more than once, got on thanks to an error by Cal shortstop Mike Reuvekamp. After Pat Kelly flew out, sophomore outfielder Michael Pritchard singled to put Kiser in scoring position, but Rich Sanguinetti grounded out to end the inning.
Erstad refused to saddle the blame onto his players. He took responsibility on himself and the rest of the coaching staff for not having the hitters ready to go.
"We didn't come ready to play today. It's on me," he said. "I've got to get them prepared to play and I didn't do my job. Our approach was off. We didn't hardly hit any balls hard."
Erstad also noted that while the comebacks Nebraska has been staging lately can be fun and exciting, that formula isn't a sustainable way to pick up wins. The Huskers' habit of falling behind early has to stop if they are to become a more consistent squad.
"We're good at responding to a fight, but we're not good at starting a fight," Erstad said. "That's something we need to work on."
Around the horn
***The Huskers' three hits were the fewest they've had in a game this season. The previous low was six in a 4-1 loss to West Virginia in the Dairy Queen Classic.
***Lemke threw 80 pitches Sunday as he continues to recover from offseason blood clot surgery. Erstad said the coaching staff still has a pitch-count limit on the junior, but he continues to improve.
"We're probably monitoring it more closely than we do with other guys," Erstad said. "He's making progress and he's taking a lot of steps in the right direction. His velocity's starting to come back. We're coming to be patient."
Lemke admitted that it wasn't easy to come back from the surgery, but he said he's not limited by the injury anymore and is able to use all his pitches.
"It's a pretty traumatic experience, finding out about the blood clot and going through the rehab process," he said. "Being able to come back is a blessing and I don't take anything for granted."