AUSTIN, Texas — Nebraska’s Brandon Pierce followed Longhorn baseball pretty closely while growing up in Gunter, Texas, and that’s why he warned teammates before Friday’s game not to expect close calls to go their way.
Visitors don’t often get the breaks at Texas, he said. The goal was not to allow frustration to snowball into disaster.
Pierce managed to maintain his composure Friday in what may have been the grittiest start of his career, allowing three runs in six innings. But his teammates couldn’t do the same, unable to build on an early lead and ultimately unraveling late in an 8-2 loss to the Longhorns (4-1) at Disch-Falk Field.
The Huskers (0-5) led 2-0, but eventually lost that advantage in a controversial sixth inning before Texas added five more two-out runs to blow the game open in the eighth.
“If you want to be great, you have to learn how to fight through and win those games,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “You’ve got to believe. We’re in those situations and we’re getting closer. These guys have a lot of heart.”
Pierce, who threw 105 pitches, showed that Friday. He nearly navigated successfully through the sixth — he had several two-strike pitches that were judged to be just outside the zone, igniting an uproar from the NU dugout (plate umpire Tim Henderson gestured toward the Huskers indicating that he’d issued a warning).
Still, Pierce had a chance to escape the frame with a 2-1 lead intact. He was ahead 0-2 against the last two batters he faced.
But Texas second baseman Brooks Marlow worked a two-out walk to load the bases. Then first baseman Cody McElroy bounced a well-placed single past diving third baseman Josh Scheffert to give UT its first lead of the night at 3-2.
“Obviously there’s some things that didn’t go our way,” Pierce said.
But that’s not how the game started.
Senior Kash Kalkowski seemed to ignite the Husker bats in the second inning, and he didn’t even get on base. After two strikes to begin his plate appearance, Kalkowski saw eight more pitches before popping the 11th out to left.
His teammates followed with four straight hits — most notably an RBI double by Scheffert and a run-scoring single by sophomore outfielder Austin Darby.
“I credit my hit because of (Kalkowski),” Scheffert said. “He had such a good at-bat.”
Texas starter Parker French immediately settled in after that. The sophomore right-hander ended the second inning by inducing a double play off freshman Jake Placzek’s bat before retiring 11 of the next 14 batters.
Nebraska’s only real scoring threat after that came in the seventh, but senior Chad Christensen just missed a 3-1 fastball, flying out into a stiff wind in center field.
It got out of hand from there.
Texas sealed the win with a five-run eighth inning, doing nearly all its work with two outs. Two hit batsmen, a passed ball and a walk contributed to the outburst. The Longhorns had only three hits in the inning.
UT closer Corey Knebel struck out the side in Nebraska’s half of the eighth and ninth innings.
“When things get a little sideways, what happens? That’s when we get on our heels a little bit,” Erstad said.
The Longhorns have won nine of their last 11 against the Huskers. The teams will play the second game of the series at 1 p.m. Saturday.
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