Bullpen struggles continue for Huskers in series-opening loss to Oral Roberts

TULSA, Oklahoma — Nebraska endured another rocky bullpen outing and trailed from the start in an 11-4 loss to Oral Roberts on Tuesday night.

Coming off a solid outing in his first career start last week, junior right-hander Mike Waldron lasted just 1⅓ innings and the relief arms also struggled as the Golden Eagles pulled away with a four-run second and a six-run fifth.

“You harp on attention to detail and, my gosh, that’s kind of been our issue this year,” NU coach Darin Erstad said during his postgame radio interview. “That’s one of those things we’re going to have to get cleaned up pretty quickly.”

Nebraska scored on a pair of sacrifice flies by Jesse Wilkening and Luke Roskam in the fourth and another from Angelo Altavilla in the sixth. Gunner Hellstrom — a true freshman making his second career start and first at catcher — added an RBI single in the seventh to draw NU to within 11-4. The Huskers loaded the bases after that but didn’t score again following a pickoff, a strikeout and a flyout.

The Huskers (11-9) and Golden Eagles (12-6) wrap up their two-game series Wednesday at 1 p.m. in what will be a bullpen affair for both squads.

Waldron got four outs on 40 pitches, giving up a two-out RBI single to Spencer Henson in the first. He coughed up five runs and five hits in all and walked the first two batters in the next frame, who later came in when No. 9 hitter Jared Montoya — with a .178 average entering the night — laced a double to left.

Freshman Andrew Abrahamowicz went 2⅔ innings on 57 pitches and was charged with three runs via three walks and two hits. Junior righty Byron Hood relieved him in the fifth and couldn’t slow the ORU momentum as Henson capped the frame with a three-run homer. The  runs were unearned following a throwing error by third baseman Zac Luckey — a true freshman making his fourth start in the past six games — that allowed the rally to continue.

Nebraska issued eight walks and allowed nine hits in all. The bullpen continues to be decimated by injuries while younger players have endured steep learning curves. Among the silver linings Tuesday were freshman Keegan Watson (1⅔ scoreless innings) and Mitch Steinhoff (a 1-2-3 eighth).

“We talk about free passes all the time, but we limit those and we got a chance,” Erstad said. “We had some opportunities offensively but we made a couple base-running mistakes where we’re just giving them free outs. The attention to detail, we’ve got to clean that stuff up.”

ORU senior lefty Taylor Varnell picked up the win, turning in a quality start (three runs in six innings). Three relievers finished it out, working out of bases-loaded jams in the seventh and eighth by allowing no damage.

Husker hitters struck out 12 times, their third-highest total this season.

“Overall, the hits are going to come and go with runners in scoring position,” Erstad said. “But man, we have gotta find a way to throw strikes on a consistent basis and not just give up free outs.”

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