After Illinois beat Indiana earlier in the day, Nebraska was presented with a situation that would have seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. With a win over Iowa, the Huskers would not only secure a second straight series sweep, but they would also improve to 8-1 in conference play and tie the Hoosiers for the Big Ten lead.
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes had other plans. Iowa took advantage of Nebraska's sloppy defense and struggling pitchers to build a 6-3 lead heading into the ninth. The Huskers threatened to tie the game, but Austin Darby grounded into a double play to kill the rally and give NU the 6-5 loss.
The Huskers dropped to 13-17 and 7-2 in Big Ten play.
"In college baseball, you take advantage of mistakes," coach Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "We threw the ball around in one inning and they took advantage of it there. They tried to hand it to us right there. We had an opportunity to steal a game and we didn't. We won a series on the road and at the end of the day that's what you need to do."
After a quiet first two innings, Nebraska scored two runs in the top of the third on RBI singles by Michael Pritchard and Chad Christensen, but the NU defense gave those runs right back in the bottom of the frame. The Huskers committed three errors, including two by first baseman Kash Kalkowski, to allow Iowa to tie the game. Caleb Hawkins relieved Tyler Niederklein to escape a bases-loaded jam to end the inning.
But the Huskers' struggles were just beginning. The Huskers regained the lead by plating a run in the fourth, but the Hawkeyes scratched out five straight two-out singles against Tyler King in the fifth to take a 4-3 advantage. The lead stretched to 6-3 in the sixth as Iowa scored a pair of runs off of Aaron Bummer.
Although Josh Roeder came in and calmed the storm, the pitching let the Huskers down. NU hurlers issued five walks and hit two batters.
"We just can't give them free bases," Erstad said. "That just can't happen. I don't even know what to say. You give up eight free bases in a game and you're going to lose. We were up in the zone and we got hit around. Every pitch was belly-button high and you're not going to get anybody out doing that. We've got to continue to work on that and find guys that are able to pitch down in the zone."
The NU offense fell silent until the ninth, when three straight singles by Bryan Peters, Rich Sanguinetti and Pat Kelly loaded the bases with no outs. Pritchard drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Christensen brought another run home when Iowa's right fielder lost the senior's fly ball in the sun.
But Darby hit a ground ball to second to start the double play and kill NU's six-game conference winning streak.
Nebraska is in action next on Tuesday night when they will take on Creighton at Haymarket Park at 6:35 p.m.
***Tanner Lubach - The catcher had five RBIs in the series, but his best work came behind the plate Sunday. Lubach threw out two base stealers to aid NU's pitchers, who needed all the help they could get.
***Josh Roeder - No, the Huskers couldn't quite pull off the comeback. But Roeder's work at least gave them a chance. He wasn't perfect, but Roeder gave up just two hits in 2.2 innings and kept Iowa off the board.
Around the horn
***Sophomore pitcher Kyle Kubat, Nebraska's ace from 2012 who has yet to pitch this year, warmed up in the bullpen in the bottom of the fifth. He didn't end up entering the game, but just having Kubat throwing again is encouraging.
***Darby extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an infield single in the eighth inning.