A week before finals begin for Nebraska students, the Husker pitching staff got quite the test of its own Wednesday night. Kansas State entered the game hitting .331 as a team, one of the top marks in the nation. After showed marked improvement as a group during NU's five-game winning streak, the pitchers would be called upon to step up again.
Nebraska had better hope its hurlers' finals go better than this exam.
The Wildcats pounded out 15 hits, but it was the damage NU did to itself that proved most costly. Husker pitches walked eight batters and plunked four more in the 13-10 home loss, drawing the ire of coach Darin Erstad.
"It's a good learning lesson that when you're facing good hitters, if you don't execute your pitches," he said. "They're going to hammer you and that's what they did. We still had a chance to win and that's fine. But when you shy away from contact and you walk eight guys, that's a problem."
Starter Brandon Pierce ran into trouble early on, surrendering three hits and two walks in the first inning. He gave up three runs but escaped a bases-loaded jam, leaving NU to believe it may have survived the storm.
But Tyler Niederklein was even worse in the second inning. He lasted just 0.2 innings, allowing five runs on three hits and a pair of walks. Ryan Hander entered and momentarily stymied Kansas State, but the Wildcats led 8-1 heading into the bottom of the second.
Nebraska's offense had some fireworks of its own, however. The Huskers pushed three across in the bottom of the frame before plating a run in the fourth and eventually taking a 9-8 lead with a four-run fifth inning. With NU's hurlers keeping Kansas State off the board in the third, fourth and fifth innings, it appeared the Huskers were on their way to their sixth straight win.
"We've found a bunch of guys that stick with their approach and keep fighting," Erstad said of the offense's rebound. "They don't care what the score is. They're going to do their thing and fight all the way."
But it was the Wildcat bats that would have the final say. Tyler King gave up two runs without getting an out (on just seven pitches) as Kansas State scored three runs to retake the lead. The Wildcats plated two more in the seventh and the NU offense just couldn't muster enough to claw back into the game again.
"It's very frustrating," first baseman Kash Kalkowski said. "We fought and game back and took the lead. We fell apart from the seventh on. That's been our problem this year. We just have to keep going."
***Kash Kalkowski: The first baseman went 3 for 4 and finished a home run short of the cycle. He was also hit by a pitch, scored twice and knocked in a pair of runs while playing excellent defense at first.
***Michael Pritchard: He had hits in each of his first two at-bats to help NU claw back into the game after the early deficit. Pritchard also drew a walk and scored a run.
Around the horn
***Kalkowski was hit by a pitch for the 17th time this season. Kalkowski's triple in the fifth inning was Nebraska's sixth of the season.
***Michael Pritchard extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a double in the first inning.
***Nebraska fell to 6-13 when its opponent scores first.
***The Huskers plunked four batters, a season high.