LINCOLN — The first Kansas State batter walked on four pitches. The second one reached base on an error.
Those ominous early moments were telling Tuesday night for a Nebraska baseball team that yet again proved untrustworthy in the field. And while the bullpen shined across seven innings of one-run ball, the offense couldn’t take advantage and only once put the leadoff man on.
It all added up to another frustrating night as Kansas State built an early lead and held on to snap a nine-game losing streak against a group of Huskers that remains consistent only in its uneven play.
“Again, we just didn’t look sharp early on; again, just kind of a broken record,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “Just not taking care of the baseball, leadoff walks. Didn’t look like (starting pitcher) Matt (Warren) was really engaged, a little off his schedule. It hurt us.”
Warren — the normal Sunday starter who hasn’t thrown on that day in two weeks because of weather — lasted two-plus innings and 43 pitches as Kansas State (16-21) touched him up for three hits and three runs. By the time NU relievers Nate Fisher and Mike Waldron got on a roll and retired 16 of the final 17 Wildcat batters, the hosts were in a hole they couldn’t overcome against five KSU hurlers.
Nebraska (16-18) mounted a ninth-inning rally when Ben Klenke and Gunner Hellstrom both drew one-out walks, but Mojo Hagge popped up on the infield and Scott Schreiber sent a dribbler back to the pitcher to end the game.
Nebraska — which defeated Kansas State 11-9 on April 10 — stays home to face Omaha at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a bunch of guys that haven’t pitched a lot,” Erstad said, “so it could get very interesting.”
NU was charged with two errors Tuesday, but committed a slew of mistakes in the first four innings as K-State collected all of its runs. A single to the shortstop and a hit batsman led to a Will Brennan RBI single in the second, and a ball that rolled by Keegan Watson in right field turned into a pair of runs in the third.
KSU scored again in the fourth on a low throw from Luke Roskam at third base on a dribbler. The inning reached that point in part because of a bunt single on which no one covered first base.
The miscue in the first inning — a liner that glanced off Roskam’s glove as the infielder looked up early anticipating a double play — didn’t cost Nebraska. But it continued a troubling trend of NU errors in 25 of 34 games this spring.
“We gotta clean it up, obviously,” junior Jesse Wilkening said. “If we clean it up, it made it a different ballgame. But it’s baseball. It happens.”
KSU’s Brennan, a sophomore left-hander, retired all six batters he faced in his first career start, but Nebraska got to reliever Hudson Treu in the third. A walk and a single put runners at the corners for Hagge, who blooped a single to left-center. With two outs, Wilkening drove a ball off the pitcher for an RBI single.
Wilkening added a run-scoring double in the fifth to pull the hosts within 4-3.
Hagge and Wilkening each logged a pair of hits while Schreiber finished 0 for 5 to end a 12-game hitting streak. NU ended 4 for 10 with runners in scoring position but didn’t put anyone in that situation past the fifth inning until the final two at-bats.
“It’s not a lack of effort,” Erstad said. “These guys are trying to make plays and just probably trying to do too much. … We couldn’t get anything going. We couldn’t steal first.”
It’s easier said than done, Mike Waldron said, but the Huskers would do well to start faster than they have while dropping eight of their past 11 games.
“As far as a team, we’re all in it together and competitors,” Waldron said. “We’re always going to stay in it.”