It's safe to say that when the Nebraska baseball team boards its plane to depart California for the final time this season, it won't be disappointed to leave the Golden State behind.
After dropping all four of its games in the state during the season's opening weekend, the Huskers capped off their second visit to California with a 10-4 loss to Cal State Fullerton Wednesday night, wrapping up a five-game stretch in which they went 1-4 against the Titans and UC Irvine.
"We're not there yet as a team," Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "We're not ready to take that next step. I think the foundation of what we want to do as far as how we go about our business and how we're going to compete and fight, I think they do that. But the belief that they're going to get over the hump… there's only one way they're going to get that, and that's by playing these teams. We have to get through that and we're going to get through that. But sometimes it's tough along the way."
Nebraska looked like it might be on its way to beating the Titans for the first time in four games this year after Chad Christensen's solo home run gave NU a 4-2 lead in the fifth. Excluding a bumpy second inning, the pitching was going strong, holding Cal State Fullerton to just two runs through the first five frames.
But things quickly fell apart in the sixth. The previously effective Tyler King plunked the first two hitters he faced and things only went downhill from there. By the time the inning was over, the Titans had sent 11 batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Nebraska was forced to use four pitchers (King, Zach Hirsch, Caleb Hawkins and Colton Howell) just to get through the inning.
The offense sputtered under the pressure put on it by the CSF bats, getting just one hit in the game's final three innings.
"This is a team in Fullerton that has a chance to win a national title this year and we were tied or ahead in three of the four games going into the sixth inning," Erstad said. "What changes? What is it? Tonight was a bit of a different story. We used a lot of guys tonight and our lack of depth pretty much got exposed - it is what it is. But at the same time, there is something happening. There are multiple games that we've been in and fought really hard but got sideways in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. That boils down to belief. We have to get over that hump."
Though the Huskers will now get a reprieve from their brutal nonconference schedule, things will by no means be easy. Nebraska heads to Illinois for a weekend series with the 13-4 Illini, who swept Baylor in Waco two weekends ago.
Despite Nebraska's slumping record, Erstad still sees potential in this team and believes it's only a matter of time before the Huskers break out.
"We're 6-13, but we could easily be .500 or above if we take care of business," Erstad said. "They've played that well and we haven't swung the bats close to how we can swing the bats. In a way it's frustrating, but I know there are good things ahead for this team."
Around the horn
***Christensen extended his hitting streak to eight games.
***After again failing to execute a couple of sacrifice bunts in clutch situations, a frustrated Erstad said that drill might simply be cut out of their practices in the near future.
"I think I'm just going to stop practicing bunting in practice because it's not working," he said. "We're wasting our time. We're going to go do something more productive. It's one of the those things where we'll continue to coach them up and help them not to be as tight and to actually breathe in those situations. This is big-boy stuff and we're looking for big boys to handle these situations. And we'll find them."