My apologies for getting this up so late, life intervened.
Nebraska (10-6) got a big win over California (11-4) on Monday at Haymarket Park, drawing a 2-2 series split with the ranked Bears. After a slow start that resembled Sunday's dud, the Monday contest returned to the form of the Friday and Saturday contests with batters on both sides teeing off on apparently outmatched pitchers.
The game represented yet another instance of NU falling into a hole early followed by the offense blasting its way into a shootout. With this fourth data point, I feel confident in saying that the Sunday game was the oddball game and that my initial diagnosis of Cal and Nebraska being stronger at bat than on the mound was correct. NU's reliance on the offense to show up means that Nebraska is likely a team that can win against or lose to just about anyone at any time. A major job for Erstad moving forward will be finding ways to keep his team motivated and ready to play.....like, oh say, against a small South Dakota school immediately after NU downed a ranked west coast school the day before?
Nebraska started Tyler Niederklein (2-1) while Cal started Michael Theofanopoulos (0-2). Both pitchers did well early, with Niederklein giving up a handful of hits but no runs through four innings and Mr. T. (I'm not spelling that name more than once) facing just one Husker batter over the minimum through four. That all changed in the top of the 5th inning as Cal's all-American second baseman Tony Renda sent a two run shot over the wall, giving Cal a 2-0 lead heading to the bottom of the 5th. What followed was probably the single worst inning in all of Mr. T's years of pitching. After an Josh Scheffert single and a sacrifice, the next three Husker batters walked, got hit by a pitch, and walked respectively. For those of you doing math, yeah, Mr. T actually walked in a run for Big Red. Freshman Pat Kelly put the Huskers up for good with his one out triple, clearing the bases and putting NU up 4-2. Michael Pritchard followed with an RBI single, making it 5-2, Nebraska. A few batters later, Scheffert, the man who started it all, stepped up to the plate with two on and two out against Cal reliever Trevor Hildenberger. The pitching change did not help as Scheffert blasted a hit over the left field wall good for an 8-2 Husker lead.
Cal fought back with three runs in the top of the 6th, but NU reliever Luke Bublitz came in and battled his way out of the inning with NU still leading 8-5. NU would add an insurance run in the bottom of the 7th on a Kash Kalkowski RBI single, giving NU its final margin, 9-5. NU relievers Brandon Pierce and Tyler King kept Cal off the board the rest of the way, preserving a big win for NU.
W: Niederklein, NU (2-1)
L: Theofanopoulos, Cal (0-2)
Players of the Game:
Pat Kelly and Josh Scheffert, NU. With one swing of the bat each, they completely changed the game, batting home 6 of Nebraska's 9 runs Monday.
Overall, a nice weekend for the Huskers as they split a series with ranked Cal, 2-2. The Huskers needed and generally showed great resiliency, falling behind by multiple runs in all four games, but coming back to win two of them. It remains to be seen how good Cal actually is (I was decidedly underwhelmed by their pitching), but two decisive wins and coming close to edging Cal in a third is not bad at all based on what we know right now.
Numbers of the weekend:
56/37: Hits for Cal and Nebraska, respectively this weekend. On one hand, that's a job well done by Nebraska to come out of this with a 2-2 split considering those numbers, on the other.....56 hits allowed against anyone not wearing pinstripes over four games is just obscene.
Nebraska will play in gorgeous weather here in about 90 minutes (1:35) at Haymarket against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State. It will be interesting to see how NU responds to Monday's big win. They followed Saturday's huge win with an uninspired flop on Sunday. Let's hope we see a strong effort from the Huskers today against an opponent they should beat.