One week ago, the Huskers had arguably the most momentum they've had during Darin Erstad's tenure. Coming off a Friday win over then-No. 1 Oregon State and a 13-3 pasting of Washington, things truly looked like they were coming together for Nebraska.
The Huskers have a taken a step back since then by following a familiar formula. NU has fallen behind early in its past three games, all losses, including a 12-8 defeat to The Citadel Saturday.
"It was the worst combination possible - we don't play well, and they swing the bats really well," Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "When Aaron (Bummer) missed up in the zone, they crushed it. But just like I say all the time, we need to take care of our own stuff. I think early on, we had a couple of things against us that we needed to fight through. That's my job to get them to work around that."
Erstad was referring to a pair of calls in the first inning that were questionable at best. Left fielder Michael Pritchard appeared to double on a line drive to center in the top half, but the umpires ruled that the ball was caught. In the bottom half, right fielder Austin Darby made a great throw to third that may have gunned down a runner, but third baseman Blake Headley didn't get the tag down all that quickly and the umpire ruled the runner safe.
"Those are plays that, if they're made, can change the complexion of a game," Erstad said. "Our guys can get a little frustrated when things don't go their way. Most of the time we do a good job of not letting the issue compound itself, but that was not the case today."
Bummer, who struggled badly in his first start of the season but rebounded well last week, got off on the wrong foot and never found his groove. Bummer walked the second batter of the game on four pitches and proceeded to give up four first-inning runs on three hits. The Bulldogs scored two more in the second, aided by a throwing error by catcher Tanner Lubach.
Bummer's day ended after he issued a leadoff walk to begin the fifth. The junior had trouble with his control, as he fell behind nine of the first 14 batters he faced and continually put himself in bad positions.
The Citadel's lead ballooned to 10-0 before the Nebraska offense got going. The Huskers scored four in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run home run by catcher Tanner Lubach. But The Citadel countered with a two-run shot of its own in the bottom half of the inning.
Nebraska made one last run, scoring four runs on four hits in the eighth to at least make things interesting. But Ryan Boldt, who entered the game as a pinch hitter, struck out looking with two on to end the eighth and the Huskers went down quietly in the ninth.
"I think we've established that they're never going to quit and they're going to play hard, but that's expected and established," Erstad said. "I'm not surprised by that - that's the way it's supposed to be. At the end of the day, we didn't take care of the baseball well enough to win a game today and we didn't get enough strikes."
The two teams will meet again at 11 a.m. Sunday for the series finale.
Around the horn
***Pritchard reached on an infield single in the eighth inning, extending his on-base streak to 51 games.
***Freshman Bryce Only was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. It is already the third time the freshman has been hit this year and gave him his first career RBI.
***Boldt didn't start for the first time this season. Kildow took his place in center field. Boldt, who was nursing a sore heel, pinch hit late in the game.