The script is becoming a repetitive one for Nebraska - Christian DeLeon picks up another strong start and the bullpen backed him up, but the NU offense was stymied by another quality starter as the Huskers fell to UC Irvine 2-1 in the first game of their five-game California trip.
This loss came in particularly heart-breaking fashion. Down 2-1 in the top of the ninth, Rich Sanguinetti singled up the middle and alertly moved to second when the Anteater centerfielder bobbled the ball. But Chad Christensen was unable to lay down a sacrifice bunt on two attempts and instead hit a grounder to the shortstop. Sanguinetti tried to advance to third but was thrown out. Josh Scheffert grounded into a double play to end the game with a 2-1 UC Irvine win, dropping Nebraska to 5-10 on the year.
"I think we had more opportunities than they actually did to score," Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "We had a couple of situations where it just didn't happen. It's not a lack of effort by our guys. They were playing hard and with a lot of passion. It's tough right now because that big hit is eluding us.
"I think the guys just want it so bad. They want to come out and win these games and they probably try a little too hard. It's my job to calm them down and handle those situations better."
Just as in his last outing, DeLeon did not get off to a good start. He gave up a trio of one-out singles in the first inning to load the bases, then was victimized by a curious call. The umpire ruled that UC Irvine batter Taylor Sparks was hit with a pitch, which forced in a run. But Sparks didn't appear to believe he was hit and the call brought an angry Erstad out of the dugout. The call held and the Anteaters added another run with a sacrifice fly.
"He killed the play and said it hit him and wouldn't allow us to ask for help," Erstad said of the questionable beaning. "When a hitter gets hit, especially in hand area, he's going to make some kind of reaction. There are a lot of different things that happen in the game and there are calls for you and against you. You have to be able to play through that stuff. Regardless of what happened, we had opportunities to take care of our own business."
But that was the end of UC Irvine's scoring as DeLeon buckled down. Despite two errors by his defense, DeLeon kept the Anteaters off the board into the seventh inning. He didn't walk a single hitter for the second straight game.
"He did it again. He just kept competing," Erstad said of DeLeon. "He got out of there with a low pitch count so we would have him ready to go for next weekend in conference play. He did a very nice job of holding his composure and mixing his pitches."
Unfortunately for Nebraska, UC Irvine's Andrew Thurman was a bit better. The righthander, ranked as the 24th best prospect for the upcoming MLB Draft by ESPN's Keith Law, went the distance, holding NU to five hits while striking out a season-high 11 hitters.
The sixth inning again proved to be the Huskers' money inning as plated its one run in the frame. Michael Pritchard led off with a double to left and moved to third on an error. After Sanguinetti stuck out, Christensen lifted a deep fly ball to score Pritchard.
But the Huskers wouldn't put another base runner on until Sanguinetti's ninth-inning single and Thurman shut the door from there.