Facing one of the nation's best pitchers in UNLV's Erick Fedde, Nebraska had very little room for error Friday night. For the most part, Christian DeLeon did his part, but a three-run fifth inning put the Huskers in a hole that proved too tough to overcome.
The offense made a couple of attempts to knot the score, but Fedde lived up the pregame hype, giving up just two runs in seven innings as the Rebels took home the 5-2 win.
"Fedde is a fantastic pitcher, one of the best in the country, so I don't want to take anything away from him," Darin Erstad said. "But can we get better? Yeah… The margin for error is small when you're facing a quality pitcher, and he made more good pitches than we put good swings on balls."
With the offense handcuffed, keeping UNLV off the board carried extra importance. DeLeon was on point early, surrendering just one hit through his first three innings. But he gave up a run in the third, then fell into some real trouble in the fifth.
With two outs, the Rebels had a single, stole second and scored a run on another single. Second baseman Justin Jones came up and belted a two-run homer to right, giving UNLV a commanding four-run lead.
"(DeLeon) keeps you in the game, but there was a situation there with nobody on and two outs," Erstad said. "You've got to finish the inning off. He's been doing a great job in those types of situations. In a normal game, we'll probably put a few runs on the board (offensively), but in a game like this facing Fedde, your margin for error is small. If you slip up, that's it."
DeLeon battled through the sixth and the seventh and quickly got two outs in the eighth. Erstad, wanting to save DeLeon's arm (he threw 113 pitches), turned to Bob Greco, but the senior gave up three straight singles and another run. The Rebels scored four runs in innings when they had no one on base with two outs.
That was all the support Fedde needed, as he held the Huskers to five hits, which tied a season low. Nebraska's best chance came when it loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but right fielder Austin Darby grounded into a double play and left fielder Michael Pritchard popped out in foul territory, giving NU only one run out of the situation.
The Huskers scored again in the seventh when first baseman Austin Christensen led off with a triple and came in on a Ty Kildow ground out. But Fedded and reliever Brandon Torres took care of Nebraska the rest of the way, shutting the door.
"He controls the height of his baseball," Erstad said of Fedde. "I don't think I saw a ball over the belly button of the catcher. He just pounds the ball down in the zone and he commanded his slider and changeup. He's able to work both sides of the plate. We beat a lot of balls into the ground. You talk about pounding down in the zone - there you have it."
Nebraska and UNLV meet again Saturday at 2:05 p.m. before the series finale Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Around the horn
***The loss drops Nebraska to 7-3 at home this year.
***DeLeon lasted 7.2 innings, the 18th time in his 21 career starts at Nebraska that he's gone at least six.
***Christensen's triple in the seventh was the first of his career and NU's 15th of the season.
***The Rebels had two steals off of Tanner Lubach. Opponents have been successful on 12 of 14 attempts on Lubach this year.
***The attendance was 1,669.