After losing to CSU Bakersfield Friday night and dropping both games of a doubleheader to Cal State Fullerton Saturday, Nebraska appeared poised to break its losing streak and secure its first win of the year when it headed into the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead and closer Dylan Vogt on the mound.
But the Trojans scored the equalizer on a sacrifice fly and plated the winning run on a single one batter later to drop Nebraska to 0-4, its worst start since the 1994 season.
"It should have never have gotten to that point," coach Darin Erstad said of USC's late rally on his postgame radio appearance. "We didn't execute. This game should have been 7-2 at the time. When you play teams that are quality opponents and you don't put them away, that's going to happen."
The Trojans kicked off the scoring by scoring a run off of Christian DeLeon in the second, but that was all the offense USC would find against the junior college transfer. Known for his strong command, DeLeon held the Trojans to four hits and one run in 4.2 innings without giving up a walk.
"He did a nice job," Erstad said. "He mixed his pitches really well. We would have liked him to go longer, but we didn't have him stretched out beyond where he was."
The NU offense spoiled several scoring opportunities early, coming up empty despite having a runner on second with no outs in each of the first two innings. But the bats finally awoke in the sixth inning, when Kash Kalkowski ripped an RBI single after hits by Pat Kelly and Rich Sanguinetti. Josh Scheffert brought home another run with a sacrifice fly before Tanner Lubach plated Kalkowski with a single. The offensive explosion gave the Huskers a 3-1 edge heading into the bottom of the frame.
That lead held until the bottom of the seventh, when USC's Timmy Robinson tripled home a run with one out. But Vogt wiggled out of the jam to preserve the lead. Nebraska had a chance to tack on some insurance runs in the top of the ninth when Kalkowski and Scheffert led off the inning with back-to-back singles. But the offense stalled and Nebraska missed on a chance to score some runs it ended up needing.
Pitching into his fourth inning, the normally solid Vogt then gave up three hits and a pair of runs in the ninth to give USC the walk-off win.
Though the pitching faltered late, the offense left plenty of scoring opportunities on the table. Six times the Huskers put the leadoff runner on base, but capitalized on that advantage just once. Nebraska had just four hits outside of the three-run sixth inning and struck out seven times.
The road doesn't get any easier for NU going forward. After the rough weekend in California, Nebraska will head down to Austin next weekend for a three-game series with Texas.
"This is a great challenge for our team mentally," Erstad said of the California trip. "We have to get them ready to play quality baseball night in and night out. We could have been 3-1 or 2-2 very easily."