After the Huskers gave up four runs in the first inning of Friday's loss to Purdue, coach Darin Erstad was understandably upset when Brandon Pierce surrendered a pair of runs to start Saturday's contest. And when the sophomore returned to the dugout, he let Pierce know about it.
As he has in most of his starts, Pierce rebounded from the slow start and gave up just one more run over the next six innings. Meanwhile, the NU bats came alive and pounded the Boilermakers for five runs in the sixth inning to come away with an 8-3 victory.
"I'll admit, after that two-run inning in the first I was down," Pierce said. "Erstad got on me, but I tried to respond to that. I know Coach Erstad's never going to do anything to intentionally put you down. He's just trying to light a fire under you."
Whatever Erstad said, it worked. Pierce gave up a two-run double in the first frame after a walk and an error by Josh Scheffert. He allowed another run in the third and was far from perfect after that, giving up nine hits and three walks overall. But the sophomore kept Purdue off the scoreboard and waited for the offense to arise.
"Brandon's starting to earn that right to fight through some stuff and you earn that right by fighting through some stuff and having success," Erstad said. "It's fun to watch him grow as a pitcher."
The offense chipped in with runs in the second and fifth innings, but waited until the sixth to really flex its muscles. The first four batters of the inning all collected hits as the Huskers turned a 3-2 deficit into a 7-3 lead.
Richard Stock then bombed a solo shot to right field in the seventh to put an exclamation point on the barrage.
Stock wasn't happy with his Friday performance, so he decided to make the easiest adjustments he knew. He slapped some pine tar on his bat, got some pointers from his dad and talked to hitting coach Will Bolt before the game.
"Yesterday, Coach Bolt could tell that I was just taking Frankenstein hacks with max effort," Stock said. "He's like, 'You've got to find that middle ground between dialed in and loose and easy.' I think I did a good job of finding that today."
Stock went 4-for-4 at the plate to raise his average to .439 in Big Ten play. He also scored three times.
After the game, Erstad said he doesn't know why his team has fallen into the habit of digging itself a hole in the early innings. But when he gets a response from both Pierce and the offense like he did today, he doesn't have to worry about it quite as much.
"Again, in the first inning we got a little sideways, but Brandon did a fantastic job of righting the ship and not letting it affect him," Erstad said. "One thing we do is we fight. We fought back today and kept the pressure on."
Around the horn
***The attendance was 6,257, the largest crowd at Haymarket Park this year.
***Pierce's 116 pitches were the most by a Husker hurler this year.
***Michael Pritchard reached base on an error in the third inning, extending his streak of reaching base to 22 games. He also singled in the fifth, bringing his hitting streak to 17 games.
***The Huskers improved to 4-0 when Pierce starts.