Nebraska has been on fire offensively over the past couple of weeks, particularly with runners in scoring position. The Huskers had scored 42 runs in their past four games coming into Friday night's matchup with Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park. But that hot streak ended at the hands of the Bluejays.
The opportunities were there. There was a runner on second with one out in the second inning. Then again in the fourth. And again in the sixth. And the eighth. Not one of those men came in to score.
Perhaps the biggest miss came in the seventh inning. Down 4-1, the Huskers loaded the bases with the top of the order coming up. After a Rich Sanguinetti single brought in a run, Pat Kelly grounded into a double play and Michael Pritchard flew out to strand the tying thread on third. The Huskers couldn't quite close the gap and lost 5-3.
The Huskers left seven men on base, six of whom were in scoring position.
"We've been successful in those situations a lot," coach Darin Erstad said. "It just didn't happen tonight. We had a couple of situations where we got a couple of runs but didn't string a lot together. At the end of the day, that's what killed us."
The defeat dropped Nebraska to 19-21 on the season. 12 of those losses have come by two runs or less.
Offense figured to be a premium coming into the game. Nebraska was facing CU ace Tommy Strunc, who took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Southern Illinois last week. The right hander wasn't quite that effective Friday night, but he got the job done. Strunc gave up five hits and walked three in his six innings, but he gave up just two runs.
The offense showed some life in the seventh, but Kelly's double-play ground ball sapped the team of what appeared to be considerable momentum. Chad Christensen tried to resurrect the bats in the eighth when he reached on an infield single and moved to second on a throwing error with no outs. But Austin Darby, Kash Kalkowski and Blake Headley couldn't bring him home and tie the game. The Bluejays notched four hits and scored a run on the struggling Dylan Vogt in the ninth and the Huskers went down in order in the bottom of the frame for the final tally.
"This is one game," Erstad said. "Everybody wants to make it a bid deal with Creighton. I couldn't care less who we're playing. It's about executing. That's what we're trying to build here - it doesn't matter what the magnitude of it is. Just do it! That's your job. We're in the process of working on that."
Nebraska starter Christian DeLeon labored through the first four innings but appeared to settle down late in his outing. The junior gave up four runs on 10 hits, but he kept the Huskers in game as the offense tried to break out.
"When he's down (in the zone), he's very effective," Erstad said. "For him, it's tempo. It's being ready from pitch one to get going. We try and prod him along and make sure he's ready. But he gave us a chance to win. He kept battling and found a way into the seventh. We just didn't have enough offensive power tonight."
The Huskers' chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are now on life support after a pair of losses already this week. Nebraska has a chance to get some points back in a doubleheader with No. 24 Oklahoma State tomorrow, but the Huskers know they will need to be sharper to make it happen.
"This was a huge game," shortstop Bryan Peters said. "It's a quick turnaround tomorrow. For our at-large bid to the tournament it's pretty much do or die for the rest of the season. We can't have any letdowns. Every game is important from now on."
***Luke Bublitz: The junior had possibly his finest outing of the year. The first pitch of his day was wild, but he settled in and struck out four in his 1.2 innings.
***Rich Sanguinetti: His bases-loaded single in the bottom of the seventh pulled the Huskers within two runs and looked like it was about to start a rally. That hit was one of two on the night for the center fielder.
Around the horn
***Pritchard saw his hitting streak snapped at 20 games.
***Nebraska had won its last four Friday night games and fell to 4-5 in Friday night games this season.