MINNEAPOLIS - In a span of minutes, elation turned to heartbreak for Nebraska at Target Field.
With Nebraska (26-29) trailing Ohio State 2-1 and down to its last strike in the ninth inning, Bryan Peters singled to score Ty Kildow and tie the game. But in the bottom of the frame, Dylan Vogt loaded the bases with one out and walked Troy Kuhn on four pitches, forcing in the winning run and giving the Buckeyes (35-21) the 3-2 win. It was Nebraska's sixth walk-off loss of the year.
The loss puts Nebraska one defeat away from its offseason. The Huskers play again at 3:35 p.m. tomorrow - if they lose that game, their season is over.
"That was a hard one - one of the hardest losses I've had here," left fielder Michael Pritchard said. "We've just got to take one game at a time. You've got to play like you're dying. You've only got one shot. We can't lose again. Everyone knows that. We've just got to keep battling and keep winning games."
The loss was especially frustrating considering all the opportunities the Huskers had to take the game over. Nebraska had runners on base in every inning but the second, including six frames in which the leadoff man reached. But the Huskers hit 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight men in scoring position and missing chance after chance to take command of the game.
The offensive output spoiled another sterling outing by sophomore starter Aaron Bummer. The lefty handcuffed the Buckeye offense for seven innings, holding Ohio State to just four hits and two runs on a career-high 109 pitches.
For most of the game, it appeared that effort would result in a loss. But right fielder Austin Darby walked with one out in the ninth and was replaced by the speedy Ty Kildow, who swiped second. Catcher Tanner Lubach flew out to right, but with two strikes Peters delivered a hit that appeared to give NU new life.
But Vogt couldn't get it done in the ninth. A single (followed by a sacrifice bunt) and a pair of walks (one of which was intentional) loaded the bases. Vogt, who threw just 18 of his 40 pitches for strikes, offered up four straight balls to give OSU the victory.
"Vogt's been our guy for years," coach Darin Erstad said. "I don't know what to say. I'll take him anytime. He had one other bout at UC Irvine when he had a tough time throwing strikes but other than that he's been pounding the zone. It's hard to understand."
The missed opportunities will likely keep the Husker hitters awake Thursday night. Nebraska had little trouble putting runners on against OSU starter Brad Goldberg but it simply couldn't get the big hit it desperately needed, save for Peters' single and a two-out RBI triple by Pritchard in the fifth.
The Huskers are now 3-10 in one-run games.
"It was a pitcher's battle today," Pritchard said. "You want to be in the position where you can drive in runs and sometimes it just doesn't happen for you. We got a few big hits, but at the end of the day, we didn't get enough."
The double-elimination format of the Big Ten Tournament means that Nebraska's next loss will be its last. The Huskers will play the winner of Friday's 12:05 p.m. game for a right to keep its season alive.
"You've seen how they bounce back," Erstad said. "They're pretty resilient and they take a lot of pride in what they do. Our guys are going to respond just fine. We're going to have to catch lightning in a bottle, but if we swing the bats, we've done it before. We'll see what happens."
***Austin Darby: After doubling twice on Wednesday, Darby had another strong performance against Ohio State. The sophomore reached twice on infield singles and walked twice, including his free pass in the ninth inning that allowed the Huskers to eventually score the tying run.
***Michael Pritchard: His RBI triple was the highlight, but the sophomore, who normally serves as NU's designated hitter, also played fantastic defensively. Starting just his tenth game in left field this year, he made a pair of sliding catches and gunned down a runner at home in the sixth inning.
Around the horn
***Christian DeLeon may make the start for Nebraska Friday. The junior missed his last start with elbow soreness and although Erstad originally announced that he'll be the man for Nebraska tomorrow, his availability isn't 100 percent certain now.
"We'll keep a close eye on him and see how everything goes," Erstad said after the game. "He said he's ready to go, but we'll take it inning-by-inning and see where it's at."
***Also dealing with an injury is center fielder Rich Sanguinetti, who came out of NU's regular season finale last Saturday after fouling a ball off his foot. The senior started Wednesday and went 1 for 3 but was limited to a pinch-hitting role Thursday. He struck out looking to lead off the ninth inning.
"It's a bruise. It makes it very painful to walk on," Erstad said. "We'll have to evaluate it tomorrow. The way he was moving around, it would be a pretty miraculous recovery to get him in the lineup tomorrow."
***Should Nebraska win tomorrow and advance to Saturday, Brandon Pierce could be the one making the start. Erstad previously said Pierce's season might be over due to a back injury, but the junior is feeling better and is on the active roster this week.
"He's in that pool of guys that has a chance to start maybe if we still get to play baseball after tomorrow," Erstad said. "We'll see. We might have to get creative."
***Goldberg, who labored through 119 pitches in 6.2 innings, had nothing but respect for the Nebraska lineup after the game. After giving up seven hits and four runs in 4.2 innings against the Huskers on April 13, the OSU hurler knows the strength of NU's lineup.
"I didn't have a real great start against them last time, but I learned a lot from that day," Goldberg said. "They grind and they make more adjustments than any team in the Big Ten in my personal opinion."
***Nebraska has now grounded into 40 double plays this year, topping last year's mark of 39.