STILLWATER, Okla. - In a season full of wild comebacks, one of which came just 24 hours earlier, the Huskers' late-inning magic finally ran out against Cal State Fullerton Sunday.
Facing elimination from the Stillwater regional, Nebraska put two men on while trailing by one run in the ninth inning. Jake Placzek smoked a line drive, but it was directly at the second baseman, ending the game 4-3 and registering the season's final out.
The Huskers end the campaign with a 41-21 record and its most wins since 2008.
"We had two (games) slip away from us (this weekend), and it hurts," senior outfielder Michael Pritchard said. "We had a really good shot at winning this game today. (Aaron) Bummer is going to try and take the blame, but he pitched as well as he could have pitched.
"As a team, we just didn't get it done today. That's baseball."
It was the defense that truly let Nebraska down. The Titans notched only five hits in the contest, but were aided by three NU errors and a balk that resulted in all four CSF runs. In its three postseason games, the Huskers committed five errors, and just seven of its opponents' 15 runs were earned.
"We need better coaching. I need to do a better job with them first and foremost," Darin Erstad said. "It's unfortunate because we played so well defensively pretty much the entire year, and I guess you get into these type of situations and little things get exposed a lot more when you're playing quality opponents. But it's on me to get them better, and that's what we're going to do."
Fullerton loaded the bases with no outs in the first and were helped on a fielding error by Bummer. The junior got the next two batters to pop out, but a two-out single by Clay Williamson gave the Titans a 2-0 lead.
The Huskers scored once in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Pritchard, then took the lead by scoring twice in the sixth. That advantage wouldn't last long, however, and it was the defense that bit Nebraska once again.
Bummer hit the leadoff batter in the seventh, then mishandled a sacrifice bunt for his second error. After another sac bunt moved both runners up a base, shortstop Steven Reveles was eaten up by a grounder, allowing a run to score.
"We are learning through this, and unfortunately sometimes you have to learn the hard way," Erstad said. "It's one of those growing moments and it cost us today.
"I thought Aaron did a great job of weathering the storm early and giving us a chance to win."
The Huskers called upon Bob Greco, and then misfortune struck. The coaches tried to call time to adjust their defense at first and third base, but when Greco stepped off the rubber he was called for a balk. That allowed the runner from third to score, supplying what would end up being the winning run.
"Bob Greco's balk, that's on me," Erstad said. "We wanted him to step off to change the first and third defense. We probably called it a little bit too late, and that's on me. We've got a boy hurting over there, and that's not on him."
As they have done all year, the Huskers made things interesting late. After two quick outs in the top of the ninth, Austin Darby singled and Ben Miller was hit in the head by a pitch. Placzek's line drive likely would have scored at least one, but it was directly at the second baseman.
Ultimately, the Huskers just missed out on what would have been yet another comeback in a season full of them. But the players understand how close they were, and they feel the program has momentum moving forward.
"Every day is a new day," Pritchard said. "Every at-bat, you never know who is going to come up big for his team. We had guys up that we wanted to have up, but they just didn't fall for us… We got stuff going and we got some big hits, but we were one big hit away from two or three more runs."
Starter Aaron Bummer: Yes, he made two tough errors. But the lefty settled down brilliantly after a tumultuous first inning and saved the bullpen, a critical contribution had Nebraska advanced. Bummer allowed just five hits through 6.1 innings and none of the four errors scored against him were earned.
Center fielder Ryan Boldt: The Huskers were hitless heading into the fourth, then Boldt led off with a double and came in to score two batters later. It was his only offensive contribution of the day, but Boldt ended the postseason with six hits in 13 at-bats, three extra-base knocks and five runs scored.
Around the horn
***Miller was removed from the game after being hit in the head with a pitch in the ninth inning. Ty Kildow came in to pinch run for him.
"He said he was fine, but I don't have any real updates on him right now," Erstad said.
***Nebraska is now 0-8 all-time against Cal State Fullerton.
***Greco's balk in the eighth inning was Nebraska's fourth of the season.
***Bummer had just two errors coming into the game, but committed a pair Sunday. Nebraska pitchers had three miscues combined on the weekend.
***The attendance was 2,215.