AUSTIN, Texas - After Saturday's game against Texas, coach Darin Erstad described his tactics in setting up a much tougher nonconference schedule than NU has had in recent years.
"The tough nonconference schedule is designed to find guys that can pitch in those type of atmospheres," Erstad said.
The Huskers seemed to find one such pitcher Saturday against Texas, as Christian DeLeon pitched like an ace for much of his outing. Unfortunately, Nebraska is still searching for the necessary bullpen arms, as the relievers squandered a solid start for the second straight day. Texas' C.J. Hinojosa singled up the middle off of Dylan Vogt with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth to give Texas a 4-3 victory, the second time in a week that Vogt has been the victim of a walk-off hit.
The loss dropped NU to 0-6, its worst start to a season since 1942.
"We know we're right there, but when it comes down to it, that doesn't work," second baseman Pat Kelly said. "We have to be there, and we're going to be. We're close. It's tough, but we're a couple bunts away from dominating that game. It's the little things right now."
The Longhorns got to DeLeon early, putting up a run in both the second and third innings. But just as he did last week against USC, the JUCO transfer seemed to get stronger as the game went on. He struck out seven and at one point retired ten straight Longhorn batters. He left the game after six solid innings and 108 pitches but trailed 2-1.
"He kept it together and made some huge pitches in situations," Erstad said. "I think he got stronger as the game went on and really did a nice job of settling in. When you can throw three pitches for strikes at any given time, you're going to be effective."
Nebraska erased the deficit with a run in the top of the seventh, but the bullpen gave the lead right back. Luke Bublitz walked two batters, so Erstad summoned Aaron Bummer. But with two outs, Bummer walked both hitters he faced, the second of which forced in a run. Josh Roeder came in and finally stopped the bleeding with a strikeout.
The Huskers tied the game again in the eighth when Kash Kalkowski lifted a sacrifice fly to center that was deep enough to score Chad Christensen from third. Caleb Hawkins threatened to give the lead right back by putting two men on in the eighth, but Vogt came in and put out the fire.
But after NU failed to score in the top of the ninth, Texas used a double, an intentional walk and the game-winning single to again send the Huskers to the dugout empty-handed.
"It's on the coaching staff to prepare them for those situations and we'll continue to coach them up," Erstad said. "You tell them to breathe. I think there is some tension and they're starting to press with it a little bit. As good as they were last year, we're probably on the other side of that now. But it's on us to have that mental state of mind to be able to do it. I have to do a better job of having them under control."
While the bullpen's struggles may have cost NU the game, the offense certainly isn't without blame. The Huskers twice hit into double plays while trying to sacrifice bunt, including one in the ninth inning. Nebraska also left eight runners on base.
"We've just got to keep grinding," Kelly said. "We're coming focused to the ballpark every day and it's tough, but we can't hang our heads. We just have to come to the ballpark with the same attitude and energy and it's going to click."
Around the horn
***One major reason for NU's 0-6 start? The Huskers have walked 32 batters while walking just 11 times themselves.
***Bryan Peters' RBI double in the fifth inning was his first hit of the season.
***There were 13 pitchers used in the game, six by Nebraska and seven by Texas.
***The attendance for the game was 6,718, the highest total at Disch-Falk Field in six games this year.