IOWA CITY — Nebraska gave up the lead twice and then couldn’t complete the comeback in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss at Iowa, missing a chance to move into a tie for first in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes (11-15, 2-7 Big Ten), who had lost six straight league games, used four two-out singles to tie Sunday’s contest at 2-2 in the third and capitalized on three Husker errors in the fifth to go ahead 4-3.
They managed to hold on from there. Barely.
Trailing 6-3, NU loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth. After a sacrifice fly made it 6-4, senior Chad Christensen’s fly ball apparently fooled right fielder Kris Goodman and dropped in play for a fortuitous hit, scoring senior Rich Sanguinetti.
But sophomore Austin Darby grounded into a game-ending double play after that, leaving the potential tying run stranded on third base.
“We had an opportunity to steal a game, and we didn’t,” Husker coach Darin Erstad said during a postgame radio interview.
A win would have bumped Nebraska (13-17, 7-2) into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Indiana (25-4, 8-1), which lost for the first time in conference action Sunday against Illinois.
The Huskers did win the weekend series against Iowa, though, taking games Friday and Saturday. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Huskers have won three straight conference series.
“We’d like to sweep, but at the end of the day if we continue to win series, we’ll be in a good position,” Erstad said.
But Nebraska still had a great chance for a win Sunday.
RBI singles by junior Michael Pritchard and Christensen put NU up 2-0 in the third inning. Senior Bryan Peters’ sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 3-2.
The Husker pitching staff couldn’t hold off the Iowa bats, though.
Starter Tyler Niederklein lasted 223 innings, unable to help himself defensively as his errant throw to third base directly led to a run in the third. First baseman Kash Kalkowski was also charged with two fielding errors in that frame.
Niederklein and three NU relievers walked five batters in the first six innings and hit three others during that stretch.
“We just can’t give them free bases,” Erstad said.
Nebraska’s ninth-inning rally came up short Sunday, but the offense was relatively quiet against Iowa right-hander Andrew Hanse. In his second start of the year, Hanse scattered eight singles in 623 innings. NU had been averaging nine runs in its eight Big Ten games before Sunday.
The Huskers will next return home Tuesday and face off against Creighton at 6:35 p.m.