As has been the case so often this season, the starting pitching on Friday night didn't set the Huskers up with a good chance to win. But this time, it wasn't the only culprit in the loss.
Jon Keller got off to a rough start and dug Nebraska an early hole, but the Huskers raced back to tie the game in the fourth. The good feeling didn't last long, as Cameron Perkins blasted a two-run home run in the top of the fifth to hand NU a deficit it couldn't overcome in the 8-5 loss.
Nebraska is now 25-14 on the year and 7-6 in Big Ten play.
"Our offense did a fantastic job," coach Darin Erstad said. "You can't keep asking your offense to continue to (come back). It takes too much energy to do that. It's not going to work. We're going to continue to look and work to find the right pieces on the mound and find someone who's willing to compete for us and get the job done."
For the second straight Friday, the NU starter didn't last more than an inning. Keller was pounded for four runs in the first inning, all coming in with two outs. After a walk to begin the second, Keller's day was done.
Tyler Niederklein came in and quickly got two outs, one when the base runner was thrown out stealing. But he then surrendered a long ball to Perkins to put NU in a 5-0 hole.
The offense came roaring back with RBI singles by Kash Kalkowski and Richard Stock in the bottom of the third. The Huskers stranded a few runners, but completed the comeback in the fourth with a two-RBI single from Michael Pritchard and an RBI infield hit from Rich Sanguinetti.
But Perkins stole the Huskers' thunder by ripping another Niederklein pitch over the left-field wall. This one came with a runner on base, and the Huskers would never recover from the deficit.
"That was a crucial part of the game. We needed a zero there and didn't get it," Erstad said. "Niederklein threw every pitch down in the zone, but he left a changeup up and a fastball up to that guy. He's one of the better hitters in the league and he did what you're supposed to do with elevated baseballs - he crushed them."
The Huskers still had five turns at-bat to come back once more, but Purdue reliever Blake Mascarello ensured that wouldn't happen. NU didn't have a hit after the fourth inning, and it's only base runner came when shortstop Chad Christensen reached on an error. It was the only man that reached in 4.2 innings against Mascarello.
"We can extend him because he's got that type of arm," Purdue coach Doug Schreiber said. "He's not done for the weekend either. That's not a coach abusing him. He's just very resilient."
The Huskers bullpen wasn't nearly as dominant. NU relievers yielded six hits, four walks and four earned runs.
"They're bullpen did a little better job than ours," Erstad conceded.
The Huskers and Boilermakers will go again tomorrow at 2:05 p.m.
Around the horn
*** Stock threw out his first base runner of the year in the second inning. It was the first time anyone tried to steal on Stock this season. He threw out another base stealer in the eighth.
*** Pritchard moved his hitting streak to 16 games with a single in the third inning.
***Nebraska has now outscored opponents 57-8 in the fourth inning this year.
***Coming into the game, Josh Scheffert held a .818 slugging percentage during Big Ten play. In Big 12 games last season, Scheffert slugged just .104.