Early offense eludes Huskers

Nebraska played it’s best game of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge on Saturday evening, but it wasn’t enough to take down the fifth-ranked team in the country. Nebraska (1-4) suffered a third consecutive loss, falling to the Oregon State (6-1), 5-2, in a game where the Huskers, fell behind early, again, and were unable to muster offense of their own early in the game or early in their plate appearances.

“Just have to keep grinding,” said Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad. “This game is going to throw a lot at you. We’re playing quality teams and every little mistake that you make is going to get exposed. We’re not making huge mistakes, we’re making little ones that can cost us.”

The first Husker mistake put Nebraska in a deficit before they could step to the plate for their second at-bat, for the third time this weekend.

With two outs and a runner on first, Nebraska left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers tossed an offering into the wheelhouse of Oregon State first baseman KJ Harrison, a 1-0 pitch that went out of the ballpark to left field for a quick 2-0 Oregon State lead.

“First inning, two outs, they get a home run. Right there, (if we) get out of that, we have a chance to get rolling,” said Erstad. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Oregon State’s 2-0 lead after the first inning comes two days after the Beavers seized a 4-0 advantage in their first at-bat against the Huskers. It took Oregon State two innings this time to jump to a 4-0 lead, doing so on a bases loaded hit batter and sacrifice fly in the second. While Oregon State jumped on early opportunities, Nebraska was unable to respond in kind.

Nebraska matched Oregon State in having nine at-bats with a runner in scoring position, bettering their one hit with two, but when the runners reached second and third base was the difference in the game.

Junior right fielder Scott Schreiber singled to lead off the second, but two strikeouts kept him at first before Jesse Wilkening singled to left field to put two on. But with two outs, senior second baseman Jake Schleppenbach skied out to center to end the inning. In the third, left fielder Mojo Hagge doubled to right center, but it was with two outs, the inning coming to an end one batter later. Wilkening doubled in the fourth, one batter after sophomore third baseman Angelo Altavilla singled to left, but both of those hits were with two outs. Nebraska again left a runner in scoring position with Schleppenbach grounding out after the sophomore catcher’s two-bagger ending the Husker threat. When Nebraska put Oregon State in a danger zone, it often came with two outs, limiting their chances of capitalizing on the opportunity.

“We didn’t generate anything with zero outs and getting anything started where you have an opportunity to build on something,” Erstad said as Nebraska went 4-for-22 batting with less than two outs. “When you have to always get two-out hits, that makes it even harder. That’s where we put ourselves in a tough position offensively today.”

Struggling to find a way to strike early in their trips to the plate against Oregon State pitchers, the Huskers received a stout relief effort to keep the game in striking distance. After Meyers exited with one out in the fourth, sophomore left-handed pitcher Jake McSteen pitched into the seventh, putting zeros on the board in the process.

“Unfortunately when those guys come in we’re playing from behind,” Erstad said on McSteen’s strong relief effort. “They are doing a nice job with that. We are seeing them way too often in those situations.”

With McSteen holding the Beavers at bay, Nebraska finally broke through in the sixth. And it occurred with offense generated with less than two outs.

Singles from Schreiber and center fielder Luis Alvarado put the first two Huskers on base before a run-scoring knock from Altavilla plated the Nebraska’s first run. The prospect of a big inning dimmed with a Wilkening strikeout and Schleppenbach fly out, but junior shortstop Brison Cronenbold doubled down the left field line to bring home Alvarado and make it a 4-2 game. A four-pitch walk to Meyers loaded the bases, but a line out to left by Hagge ended the rally.

“That’s kind of been the story of our season so far. With two outs (and nobody on), we get two hits, because they’re not trying to walk you. Then we get guys in scoring position and they go to work on you. We haven’t done as good of a job of staying aggressive when we have those runners in scoring position.”

The lone batter to reach base for Nebraska over the final three innings was Schleppenbach, drawing a two-out walk in the eighth, a batter before the inning ended on a fielder’s choice. Oregon State tacked on a run in their half of the eighth to give the game its final 5-2 score.

Knocked around for four runs off four hits in the first two innings, Nebraska pitchers held Oregon State to one run and six hits over the final six at-bats. But the early deficit was too much to overcome for an offense still in search for a consistent approach, from the first inning through the ninth, with no outs or two.

Altavilla, Schreiber and Wilkening each picked up two hits for a club which has totaled 20 over the last two games, but only seven runs to show for it. Meyers received the loss in allowing four runs off six hits in 3.1 innings. Harrison went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored to paced the Beavers. Oregon State starting pitcher Sam Tweedt went five innings, allowing the two Nebraska runs while scattering seven hits, striking out four batters without issuing a walk.

Nebraska closes the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, set to play Utah at 1 p.m. on Sunday, looking the salvage the weekend with a victory.

“I do like where our energy is, I do like where our effort level, or focus, all of those type of things I think are fine,” Erstad said. “We talked early and I said we’re going to be good, it’s just how quickly we can get there. We’re not quite there yet.”

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