Brandon Pierce doesn't want to lie. He was nervous during the first few innings of Saturday's game with Iowa.
The sophomore, making his first weekend start of the year and second overall, walked the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings and gave up a home run in the third, leaving the Huskers in danger of dropping the first two games of their series with Iowa.
"I felt that the first couple innings was more of a get-your-feet-wet type of deal," Pierce said. "To pitch on the weekends is a humbling opportunity and a great opportunity to have. You don't want to psyche yourself out, but you want to take advantage of that opportunity and prove (the coaches) right."
Pierce did just that in the next three innings, keeping Iowa off the board while the offense piled on runs in the 9-4 win to avenge the Huskers' loss to the Hawkeyes Friday night.
Nebraska looked to be in trouble early. Pierce's command was off, and each of those leadoff walks brought in a run. Then after striking out the first two hitters in the third, Pierce gave up a bomb to centerfield, only the seventh home run of the year for the power-challenged Hawkeyes.
"He was a little shaky with his command early on, walking some guys," coach Darin Erstad said. "But he really settled down. That was his MO last year - walking guys and getting out of control and getting in trouble. He did a nice job of righting the ship and he pitched really well."
Pierce wasn't perfect in his final three innings, giving up four hits. But all four were singles and only one of those runners advanced past first base.
Pierce admitted that his mentality has changed this season and he probably wouldn't have been able to rebound earlier in his career.
"That wouldn't have even been a thought in January," he said. "The coaches have done a great job of telling us to control what we can control and don't worry about what's happened in the past. I wasn't happy with the way I started."
Unlike Friday, the offense took care of business. Though the Huskers only had 10 hits, they made the most of their opportunities and scratched runs across. NU scored twice in the first and once in the second.
But the fifth inning changed the game. With the game knotted at 3, the Huskers scored three runs on RBI singles by juniors Kash Kalkowski and Richard Stock and a throwing error by the Iowa catcher.
Freshman Aaron Bummer relieved Pierce in the seventh and immediately ran into trouble by walking the first batter and hitting the next man with a pitch. But junior Tyler Niederklein got out of the inning with only one run and the Huskers added three more runs in the bottom of the inning to pull away.
After Friday's loss, Erstad said he didn't know if his team believed they could win in conference play. Saturday didn't fully answer that question, but it puts the Huskers on the right path.
"It's a work in progress," Erstad said. "It doesn't happen in one game. This isn't something that will happen overnight. There's no magical moment. It's gaining confidence each series, each game. At the end of the day, we're going to have to win those close ones in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to really feel that and develop that toughness."
Around the horn
***Niederklein got off to a rough start this season. He blew a save in his first opportunity at closer, was demoted and struggled in a few starts since.
But the junior was perfect Saturday, pitching three innings without giving up a hit or walking anyone. He struck out two and has now gone three straight outings without allowing a run.
"Nieds is doing great," Erstad said. "Him and Coach Silva have been working on a few mechanical tweaks. His velocity is back up these last few times out. He's such a hard worker and such a good kid that you knew eventually he was going to turn around."
Erstad said he didn't know if Niederklein's recent successes would earn him more starts in the future.
***With his first-inning double, Michael Pritchard moved his current hitting streak to 10 games. It's the second time this season Pritchard has had a hitting streak reach double-digit games.
***The Huskers improved to 2-0 in games started by Pierce this season. He achieved career highs in both strikeouts (six) and innings (six).