The Huskers entered Saturday's game against Michigan with an outside chance of moving into the No. 2 seed in next weeks' Big Ten Tournament with a win. It didn't take long for that hope to vanish.
Starter Tyler Niederklein lasted just two innings in his final Haymarket Park appearance, forcing Darin Erstad to turn to his exhausted and ineffective bullpen early in the game. Things went downhill quickly as Michigan (29-25, 14-10) piled up 23 hits, the most NU has given up all season, and beat Nebraska (25-28, 15-9) 19-9.
"When they keep score, I guarantee the score can go either way," Erstad said. "I've been a part of games like that all the time. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield. It's pretty evident what we were today."
The loss locks Nebraska into the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and prevents the Huskers from getting a first-round bye, something a pitching-starved team could desperately use.
Michigan quickly jumped on Niederklein for three runs in the first inning and added another in the second. But just when it seemed the game might get out of hand, Nebraska staged a strong two-out rally in the bottom of the third, scoring four times to tie the game.
No one scored in the fourth, but the wheels came off for NU in the fifth. The Wolverines battered Dylan Vogt and Jeff Chesnut, at one point having seven straight batters reach base en route to six runs. They didn't stop there, padding on four more in the in the sixth.
Michigan tacked on five more in the eighth to conclude its scoring. All but one of the Wolverines' 23 hits were singles. NU pitchers also walked six and hit four batters. Nebraska was forced to use eight different pitchers and all but one allowed at least three base runners.
"It's well documented that our pitching depth isn't where it needs to be," Erstad said. "We're not a good enough ball club to play with errors expect to win. Hits are going to come. You're going to give up hits, but if you don't play defense and with our depth in the bullpen, that's what happens."
That problem would not have been quite as glaring if Christian DeLeon had been available. NU's Friday starter for much of the season, DeLeon sat the series out with elbow soreness. Erstad said he felt better playing catch this weekend but couldn't give a definitive answer on the junior's status.
The Huskers now turn their attention to the Big Ten Tournament, where they will meet Michigan again in the first round. The two are scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Whether you win or lose, you have to have a short-term memory," Erstad said. "That's just the way it is. There are so many games played in baseball that there is random craziness in a season. It can happen at any time. These things in baseball happen. We got absolutely whooped up on today. We just turn the page. We're basically fighting for our lives now."
Around the horn
***Erstad said pitcher Brandon Pierce tweaked his back against Creighton and is likely done for the year.
***Rich Sanguinetti left the game after fouling a pitch off of his foot. Erstad couldn't comment on his condition after the game.
***Chad Christensen's ninth-inning single was the 240th hit of his career, tying his with Alex Gordon for ninth place in school history.
***Pritchard has now reached base at least once in each of Nebraska's last 36 games. It's the sixth longest streak at NU since 2000.