The Huskers have been among the most clutch teams in the country as of late, as four of the contests during their five-game winning streak were accompanied by late-inning comebacks. Nebraska tried that formula again Wednesday night when it loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but Pat Kelly struck out looking to give Kansas State the 10-6 win and snap the winning streak.
The game was another wild one, as Darin Erstad was ejected for the first time in his career. Taylor Fish tried a bunt at the end of the sixth inning, and pitcher fielded and hit Fish in the back with his throw. The umpire ruled that Fish was out of the baseline and that it was runner's interference, an iffy call that set Erstad off.
Following the ejection, associate head coach Will Bolt gathered the team in the dugout. The Huskers (20-14) were down just 6-5 at that point, and he wanted to refocus their energy.
"I told them to take a deep breath," Bolt said. "The emotions were running high and the game was back and forth. You just want to use that adrenaline the right way, that's what I wanted to get through to them."
Unfortunately, Kansas State only increased its lead from there. The Wildcats plated a run in the seventh, then three more in the ninth off of NU closer Josh Roeder.
But, as has been their tendency lately, the Huskers never stopped battling and tried to find a way back. Christian Cox grounded out to the pitcher to score Jake Placzek from third, then with two outs Nebraska loaded the bases with a single and a pair of walks. But Kelly watched a 1-2 pitch on the outside corner that ended the game.
"I think we hope that they'll rally and respond any time," Bolt said. "I thought we did a good job sustaining some at-bats late in the game. That last inning was pretty indicative - we didn't lay down at the plate."
The Huskers actually struck first on a sacrifice fly by Pat Kelly in the first, but things got ugly quickly. Starter Kyle Kubat walked three and gave up a single before he was pulled in the second, then Luke Bublitz and Jeff Chesnut combined to face six batters without getting an out. By the time Colton Howell finally ended the frame, KSU had sent 12 batters to the plate and scored six times. The Wildcats would not relinquish that lead.
"You see in the course of the five-game winning streak that we've had, we've pounded the zone," Bolt said. "We've come and attacked, but it got a little sideways on us with Kyle and the guys coming out of the bullpen. You walk nine against Kansas State, they're a pretty good team. That's one thing we've been so good at the last five games, and it just got away from us a little tonight."
Nebraska must recover and regroup for a weekend series at Minnesota (17-10, 5-4), which is just one spot behind the Huskers in the conference standings. NU must work on improving not only its conference standing, but also its RPI in the coming weeks to increase their odds of advancing to the postseason.
"We just take this game for what it is," Bolt said. "I think our guys competed well and we gave ourselves an opportunity to win there at the end. We've got a big series coming up. All the games coming up are huge, whether it's weekend games or midweek games, we're playing to win every single game."
Around the horn
***Nebraska has now lost its last five games against Kansas State by a combined score of 54-31.
***Pritchard's first-inning double gave the Huskers their first extra-base hit in six games. The senior also tripled later in the game.
***This contest was Pritchard's second three-RBI game of the season.
***Howell's 3.1 innings represent the longest outing of his career, besting his 2.0 innings March 1 at the Citadel.
***The attendance was 2,711.