AUSTIN, Texas — All of Nebraska’s hitters lingered in left field after another crushing defeat to discuss how three failed sacrifice bunt attempts likely lost them a tightly contested game.
Sure, there were other key mistakes in a 4-3 loss Saturday at Texas — most notably a baserunning blunder in the sixth, and the four walks issued by NU pitchers in the seventh, and the second walkoff hit of the year allowed by the team’s most reliable reliever, Dylan Vogt.
But for an NU lineup that bunted well last year (35 bunt singles and 45 sacrifice bunts during the regular season) and requires each hitter to bunt daily in practice, nothing stings the competitive psyche more than spoiling potential rallies by failing to advance runners when squaring around.
Unless, of course, your bunt attempts result in double plays. That happened twice Saturday (in the fourth and the ninth). And that stings more.
It was enough for an impromptu hitters-only meeting to discuss the issue, just one of several shortcomings for the winless Huskers during two weeks of action in 2013. The last time NU started a season with six straight losses was 1942.
“It’s the little things we have to take care of,” sophomore second baseman Pat Kelly said. “We get a couple bunts down there, it puts us in position to do some damage. It’s just the little things.”
Junior left fielder Ty Kildow struck out instead of bunting successfully when the leadoff man reached in the third inning. Senior first baseman Kash Kalkowski lined into a double play on his sac bunt attempt with two on in the fourth. Blake Headley’s bunt with a runner on first in the ninth inning turned into a 1-6-3 double play.
Coach Darin Erstad couldn’t really explain the lack of execution afterward, left only to assume that his guys continue to place too much pressure on themselves when the game’s on the line.
“Maybe I have to go out there and talk to them before the at-bat,” Erstad said. “I have to do a better job of having them under control.”
Thing is, though, Nebraska actually came through in the clutch at times Saturday.
Senior designated hitter Bryan Peters, who’d been hitless in his first seven at-bats this season, just missed a two-out home run in the fifth. The baseball bounced in front of the wall in left-center field, good enough to score sophomore Austin Darby from second and trim Nebraska’s deficit to 2-1.
Headley’s pinch-hit single with two outs in the seventh inning tied the game at 2-2.
After Texas added a run in the seventh, the Huskers answered right back. Senior right fielder Chad Christensen walked to begin the frame and advanced to third on a perfectly executed hit-and-run (a lunging Kelly slapped a single past the UT second baseman). Kalkowski tied the game at 3-3 on a sacrifice fly to center field.
“In many ways, they outplayed us,” said Texas coach Augie Garrido, whose team climbed to 5-1.
Garrido complimented the “backwards” and “courageous” approach by NU starter Christian DeLeon, who used his slider and changeup to keep the Longhorns off balance after they took an early 2-0 lead.
Mark Payton’s squeeze bunt drove in sophomore left fielder Taylor Stell from third base to make it 2-0 in the third inning, but DeLeon found his rhythm after that. He retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced, striking out five of those (seven total).
But the Huskers ultimately couldn’t take advantage of DeLeon’s effort. Too many mistakes.
They left a runner stranded in scoring position in four innings. Kelly misread a fly ball and couldn’t make it back to first base in time, ending the sixth inning.
NU relievers Luke Bublitz and Aaron Bummer combined to walk four Texas batters in the seventh, which allowed the Longhorns to take a 3-2 lead.
UT won it when freshman C.J Hinojosa, looking off-speed, guided a curveball from Vogt into center field with one out in the ninth, scoring Erich Weiss from second.
“It’s being able to execute in pressure situations,” Erstad said. “We’ve had multiple opportunities to do that. And we have to continue, as a coaching staff, to mentally have them ready to do that.”
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