The Husker defense, solid behind its pitchers all year, fell apart in Evanston against Northwestern Saturday. All of the Wildcats' runs were aided by six Nebraska errors in the 8-4 loss. It was the most errors the Huskers have committed since April 3, 2007 against Creighton.
Coach Darin Erstad blamed his fielder's passivity for the miscues, saying his players needed to be aggressive and attack the ball instead of waiting for it.
"When you play on a field that's pretty choppy, you have to be ultra-aggressive," Erstad said on his postgame radio show. "You can't play timid and sit back on your heels. That's exactly what we did today."
On the other side, Northwestern's Brandon Magollones kept the Husker bats in check all day. He tired a bit at the end of the game after the outcome had been decided, but still gave up only three runs over eight innings.
Nebraska starter Jon Keller looked like he would be able to match Northwestern's freshman early on, as he didn't allow a baserunner in the first two innings.
But Keller, and the Husker defense, unraveled in the third. Junior third baseman Kurt Farmer committed two errors in the frame, and Keller walked three hitters in a row, the latter two with the bases loaded, to give Northwestern the early advantage.
The fourth inning brought more frustration for Keller, as a Pat Kelly error allowed another run to score. After a few walks, Keller's day was done. Brandon Pierce entered and immediately felt Keller's pain, as he was victimized by an error by junior shortstop Chad Christensen. The Wildcats led 6-0 after four innings.
The NU offense showed signs of life when junior centerfielder Rich Sanguinetti singled to score sophomore leftfielder Michael Pritchard in the top of the sixth. But Christensen committed another error in the bottom of the inning and two more runs scored to make it 8-1.
Christensen would commit yet another error, his third of the day, in the seventh inning, but Pierce was able to keep the Wildcats off the board.
Erstad said the blunders in the field may have planted doubt in his players' heads, making the mistakes snowball as the game progressed.
"That's how the whole game is," Erstad said. "There's contagious hitting, contagious fielding, contagious pitching. The bottom line is, when you get into those situations, you've got to attack and not be passive. I have to do a better job of coaching those guys so they can understand that."
The Huskers were able to score three runs in the top of the ninth, but it was far too little too late. Nebraska had just four hits entering the ninth and struck out 12 times, five of which came on called third strikes.
"We've been very consistent in our offensive approach," Erstad said. "Today, it just wasn't there."
The loss dropped Nebraska to 19-10 on the season and 3-2 in league play. The Huskers will face Northwestern again tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Around the horn
***Cory Burleson threw out a runner in the bottom of the fourth inning and has now caught 14 runners stealing this year.
***Christensen had a rough day at the plate as well as the field, striking out three times. The junior is hitless in eight at-bats in this series, although he did score in the ninth inning after being hit by a pitch.
***Should the starting pitchers continue to struggle, Erstad hinted that Brandon Pierce could be in line to move into the rotation. Pierce pitched effectively for 3.1 innings Saturday, allowing two unearned runs.
Pierce has made one start this season, throwing 3.1 innings against Kansas State last Tuesday.
"Brandon's taken it to another level here," Erstad said. "His tempo's increased and his strike zone command has increased. I don't know. Guys are going to pitch their way into the lineup and we'll see what happens. He's doing a nice job right now."