Through two innings of Saturday's series opener with No. 16 Indiana, the Huskers seemed to have an offensive rhythm. Nebraska scored a pair of runs in the first and added another hit in the second to put some heat on Hoosier ace Joey DeNato, who entered the game with a 2.60 ERA.
But there seemed to be a shift in the third. Indiana's Nick Ramos led off with a solo home run to right and two batters later, Kyle Schwarber launched a moon shot that left the park and bounced in the parking lot beyond the right field wall. The solo shots tied the score and stole Nebraska's early momentum. The Huskers would have just three hits over the next five innings and, despite a spirited eighth-inning comeback, lost 8-6 to the Hoosiers in Haymarket Park.
"I liked our intensity early, but we got stunned by a 900-foot homer," coach Darin Erstad said. "I think we got in awe and shock and we got really quiet. We didn't fight through that middle part of the game. We battled back - we're pretty good at that. But at the end of the day, we didn't sustain it for a whole game."
Ramos and Schwarber would both go on to hit another home run in the game, but again, both were solo homers. That gave Nebraska a chance and set up the opportunity for a dramatic eighth inning comeback.
After an up-and-down start by Christian DeLeon and a rocky relief appearance by Luke Bublitz, Nebraska entered the bottom of the eighth inning down 7-3. Pat Kelly led off with a single, Michael Pritchard doubled and Chad Christensen brought them both in with a single through the left side. Kash Kalkowski kept the ball rolling with an RBI single that brought Christensen in. Josh Scheffert grounded out, but Kalkowski moved to second, setting up one of the game's defining plays.
Blake Headley sprayed a single through the left side, but it wasn't deep. Nebraska played it aggressively, sending Kalkowski home with one out. The senior was thrown out easily and Bryan Peters struck out two hitters later to snuff out the rally.
"It was a good call," Christensen said. "We challenged the outfielder and he made a good throw. You just tip your cap. It was a good play on his part."
After Schwarber clubbed his second home run of the day in the top of the ninth to make it 8-6, IU's Ryan Halstead struck out Rich Sanguinetti, Kelly and Pritchard to finish the Huskers off.
After scoring twice against DeNato in the first inning, Nebraska fell into a familiar trap. The Huskers simply couldn't get anything going against the lefty, bringing to mind several similar shortcomings against southpaws this season. Once the Hoosiers brought the right-handed Scott Effross in, Nebraska's offense came to life again and it nearly rallied back to tie the game.
"It's the same thing - another lefty that had his way with us," Erstad said. "We didn't make the adjustment and didn't have good at-bats over and over to get that guy out of there. It's the same song and dance we've been through a couple of times this year. I've got to find the right combination that will get us some runs."
The two teams will face off again Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
***Chad Christensen: The senior posted his 22nd multi-hit game of the season and drove in a pair with a single in the eighth. He reached base in three of his four plate appearances and scored two runs.
***Pat Kelly: His single to lead off the eighth inning sparked the rally that nearly pulled Nebraska even with the Hoosiers. That hit was one of two for Kelly, who also drove in a run and scored twice.
Around the horn
***The loss was the first time Nebraska has lost a conference series opener this year. The Huskers had won their first five conference openers.
***The three home runs were the most NU has allowed in a game this year.
***With his third-inning single, Sanguinetti extended his current hitting streak to 10 games. Five Huskers have had a streak of at least 11 games this year (Sanguinetti had a 13-game streak earlier in the season). Sanguinetti has reached base at least once in each of the last 28 games.