AUSTIN, Texas - For five innings Friday night, Texas native Brandon Pierce looked like he had finally developed the control that would allow him to reach his potential as a bedrock of NU's weekend rotation.
But after giving up just one walk and one run in the first five frames, that hope melted away in the sixth inning. Pierce walked three Longhorn hitters and, with a 3-2 count and two outs, gave up a two-run single to Codey McElroy. The hit gave Texas a 3-2 lead and although Josh Roeder stopped the bleeding by inducing a fly out to second, the damage was done. NU couldn't bring home any more runs against Texas' pitchers and fell 8-2.
The second two walks issued by Pierce in the sixth were very close calls and Pierce was visibly upset after the third free pass. As Pierce walked off the field when Erstad brought Roeder in, the coach told him, "I'll take care of things that you cannot control."
"It's frustrating, but I can't control that," Pierce said. "We talked about it before the game as a staff. I told the guys at Texas in nonconference, a bunch of calls may go against you. I'm not saying they went against me. I'm just saying that's out of my control. I was just happy to give the team an opportunity to win the game at that point."
Nebraska got on the board first with a dynamic second inning. The Huskers tallied four straight hits off of Texas ace Parker French, including an RBI double from Josh Scheffert and a run-scoring single from Austin Darby. But with two men on, Jake Placzek grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Texas fought back in the fourth when three straight hitters singled off of Pierce. But the junior settled down to get the next two batters and keep the damage at one run.
Nebraska had other scoring opportunities, notably when Chad Christensen came up with two outs and runners on the corners in the seventh. The senior gave the ball a ride to center, but it was caught to spoil the threat.
From there, Texas brought in ace closer Corey Knebel, who handled the Huskers. Scheffert knocked a two-out double in the eighth, but Darby went down swinging.
The wheels came off for Nebraska in the eighth inning, with wild pitching again the culprit. After the Longhorns brought in one run off of Michael Hoppes, the Longhorns scored twice off of a passed ball and hit batsmen with the bases loaded against Tyler King, both with two outs. A two-run single by Erich Weiss completed the scoring.
"This is that part of the game where if you want to be great, you have to fight through and win these games," Erstad said. "You've got to believe and you've got to be able to execute those situations. We're getting closer, but these guys have a lot of heart and they've put a lot of work in, let me tell you. They're not going to quit."
That theme was prevalent in Erstad's postgame comments. The coach desperately wants to win, but he said he is more concerned with the effort and passion his guys play with, and he's happy in that respect.
"I don't look at the wins and losses," he said. "I'm looking at their effort. I wouldn't trade them for anybody. I can't thank them enough for the work they put in and they're going to get rewarded in the end."
The two teams will square off again tomorrow at 1 p.m. Christian DeLeon of NU will oppose Texas' Dillon Peters.
Around the horn
***After struggling against CSU Bakersfield in the season opener, Pierce had a much better outing Friday night. Erstad said he pitched better than his numbers would suggest.
"I thought he did an absolutely phenomenal job under the circumstances," Erstad said. "He made a few unbelievable pitches and in this game of baseball, crazy stuff happens. But he held his composure, and that was great to see."
***Scheffert doubled twice in the same game for the first time in his career.
***In the first Division I appearance of his career, Roeder gave up one hit and no runs in 0.2 innings.
***The win was the 700th for coach Augie Garrido at Texas.