Late rally falls short as Nebraska baseball drops to 1-3
A three-run bottom of the eighth inning was not enough for Nebraska baseball (1-3) to overcome a slow start in a 6-3 loss to Sam Houston (3-1). The Huskers allowed six runs in the first two innings and by the time they found their footing on offense, it was too late.
For the first time in the series, Sam Houston drew first blood. The Huskers had gotten out to leads of 3-0, 1-0 and 4-0 in the other three meetings but on Sunday it was the Bearkats who took a 2-0 advantage.
Braxton Bragg made the second start of his career but it was short-lived. Bragg lasted just one inning and allowed four runs and six hits while striking out only one Sam Houston batter. In a weekend of sub-par starting pitching, Bragg's outing was the shortest.
The Husker bats mimicked the style of the opposing pitcher. Sam Houston starter Steven Beard imposed his will with lethargic pitch speeds often within the mid-70s. That approach had Nebraska batters hacking at the open air and lead to eight strikeouts for Beard. He completed six innings and allowed only three hits.
The Husker offense showed signs of life in the sixth inning with the addition of Luke Jessen to the batting order. The freshman started the inning off with a single but Nebraska couldn't cash in. Hitters 3-5 were retired in order and the Huskers were still scoreless.
The seventh also had a promising start for Nebraska. Brice Matthews was hit by a pitch and Josh Caron doubled to put two in scoring position. Once again, the Huskers failed to bring a run across. Reliever Tyler Davis retired the next three for Nebraska and after the seventh it was still 6-0 Bearkats.
The Huskers broke through in the eighth.
Jessen started Nebraska off with another single and Max Anderson followed with one of his own. Colby Gomes drove in a run to end the shutout with a dropped fly to right field and Matthews brought in a second run with a sacrifice fly. Freshman Josh Caron plated the final run of the inning with a single to left cutting the Sam Houston led to 6-3.
The bullpen held the Bearkats of the scoreboard again in the bottom of the inning but the Huskers returned to familiar struggles in the ninth. Leighton Banjoff and Jessen grounded out and Anderson ended the game with a fitting strikeout.
The Bullpen Shines
Nebraska's starting pitching this weekend combined to throw 10.1 innings, allow 14 earned runs on 17 hits and had 10 strikeouts to eight walks.
If you remove Saturday-night starter Dawson McCarville from the mix, the numbers get worse. McCarville had the best start of the weekend by far throwing four innings and allowing only one earned run. Two of the other three starters did not complete a second inning.
On the flip side, the bullpen did a fantastic job in some tough situations. Koty Frank threw the most innings of any Husker pitcher on Friday night with 4.2 innings and had six punchouts. Ethan Bradford was also solid in two appearances this weekend.
Nebraska's relievers combined to throw 20.2 innings, strike out 21 batters and allowed just six earned runs and six walks. Arguably the Huskers strongest group was put to the tallest test this weekend and they delivered.
Strikeouts were an issue for Nebraska at times last season. They were the offense's Achilles' Heel this weekend.
Nebraska struck out 12 times on Sunday, eight times in each game Saturday and 15 times on Friday. The biggest offender was Banjoff who went down on strikes eight times this weekend and three times in Sunday's game. Matthews is right behind him with seven strikeouts.
Last year, the Huskers averaged just under nine strikeouts per game. Saturday's numbers are on par. With an aggressive-hitting team, strikeouts are to be expected. But, to have those numbers in double digits is a no-go.
One positive from Sunday's game and the weekend series were the performances of several Husker freshman.
Jessen undoubtably deserves the most credit. The Elkhorn South product hit .636 in the weekend and was 2-of-3 on Sunday. Along with Jessen, Josh Caron provided a powerful swing hitting .333 in six at bats for the series. Caron added a double and an RBI to the total.
Two freshman pitchers ate valuable innings on Sunday too. Jaxon Jelkin of Bellevue West got two key outs for the Huskers and Jackson Brockett of Elkhorn South threw a complete inning and notched a strikeout. Throw in CJ Hood and Drew Christo and Nebraska has reason to be confident in the future.
Nebraska returns to the Lone Star state next weekend to face TCU. The Horned Frogs are ranked No. 17 by D1Baseball and are 2-1 after a 10-0 bashing of Houston.
The three-game series will be played at Globe Life field in Arlington, Texas. The games can be heard on the Huskers Radio Network.