LINCOLN — Another determined conference contender used a dominant effort to spoil Nebraska's chance at claiming a pivotal home series win.
No. 16 Indiana (36-9, 13-5) cruised to a 10-2 victory Monday to clinch the series and sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, clobbering five NU pitchers for 11 hits while Hoosier starter Aaron Slegers mesmerized a potentially lethal Husker lineup for eight efficient innings.
The lopsided contest — footnoted by the Huskers' too-little-too-late rally in the ninth — was loosely reminiscent of Nebraska's 7-4 loss to Ohio State during an April 14 rubber match. That one began as a seven-run blowout until an NU surge made things interesting at the end.
The two letdowns will likely prove costly in a clogged and competitive Big Ten race, and they might have revealed yet another hurdle that this rebuilding program is working to overcome.
“We're not there yet, obviously,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “We're going to go out and battle and fight, but at the end of the day, we got it taken to us again.”
The Huskers (21-25, 12-6) rarely back down, but they've struggled under Erstad to seize early momentum in games, especially against elite teams. Same story Monday.
Nebraska — the Big Ten's highest scoring offense in conference action — managed just three singles during the game's first eight innings, unable to get a baserunner on with fewer than two outs until Chad Christensen's infield single in the seventh. Slegers worked low in the strike zone for 813 innings, using his towering 6-foot-10 frame to accentuate his approach.
The Huskers finished with seven hits, a season low in Big Ten play. The only other time they haven't had a double-digit hit total was in that April 14 loss against Ohio State. That afternoon, Buckeye lefty Brian King subdued the NU bats for seven innings, surrendering just three singles.
“We haven't found that right formula and that right magic to finish off series,” Erstad said.
Nebraska has won its four other league series, recording sweeps of sub-.500 clubs Purdue and Northwestern.
But the Huskers are aiming for — at worst — a two-seed (and a bye) in the Big Ten tournament, and now they've yielded tiebreakers to two teams expected to finish strong over the regular season's final two weeks.
NU is now tied with Ohio State (32-14, 14-7) for third place in the league standings. Indiana sits a game ahead of Nebraska. The Huskers start a three-game series at Big Ten leader Minnesota (28-15, 11-4) on Friday.
“We still have a chance at the two-seed,” Erstad said. “There's still six games left. Who knows what could happen?”
Indiana, a potential NCAA regional host next month, didn't want to take any chances Monday, asserting itself from the start.
The Hoosiers took a 1-0 lead on a passed ball. A wild pitch set up an RBI double in the second. Junior third baseman Dustin DeMuth blew it wide open in the fifth inning when he served a hanging breaking ball from reliever Ryan Hander over the right-field fence for a three-run homer, putting IU up 5-0.
Nebraska pitchers walked nine. The Huskers committed two errors in a three-run ninth. IU capitalized on seemingly every mistake.
“We knew coming into this one, it was a huge series,” DeMuth said. “We knew they were going to be tough. We were just happy to get out of here with two wins.”
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