LINCOLN — Chad Luensmann wore his poker face after the game. But the second-inning hugs in the dugout told a different story.
Silver linings are often scarce in midweek losses, but not for the Nebraska junior right-hander Tuesday night. After two wild relief appearances a month apart, the former bullpen ace received another chance to show progress in his mechanics in his first start since late February.
His result was a mixed bag: two runs allowed in the first inning but — more important — no walks in two frames.
“It’s been tough,” said Luensmann, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. “Just finding that feel and control again hasn’t been easy. But taking a little step in the right direction every day, that’s what I’ve been working toward.”
Luensmann’s return on a “staff” day for the Huskers was the highlight in an otherwise frustrating 5-0 loss to Kansas State at Haymarket Park, their first shutout of the spring. The hosts finished 0 for 16 with runners on base against KSU right-handed starter Caleb Littlejim and two relievers, who combined on a five-hitter. Four of NU’s five pitchers allowed runs in the team’s second straight midweek loss.
Unlike last week’s flat performance against Creighton, Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said he saw energy. The team was delayed a day in Philadelphia coming home from Penn State and didn’t get back to Lincoln until Monday evening, but still put men on base in eight innings and hit the ball hard.
The Huskers were 7 for their past 47 (.149) with runners in scoring position before going 0 for 5 against the Wildcats. Ty Roseberry hit a bases-loaded bullet to third base that ended the first inning, and Joe Acker lined into a double play in the fifth with NU trailing 3-0.
“It does snowball,” Acker said. “After the first couple times it’s like ‘All right, what’s going on here?’ And the thing with baseball is those will eventually fall. That’s just how the game works sometimes. Yeah, it sucks, but we just need to stick to our approach. And those are going to fall eventually and we’re going to put up a lot of runs.”
KSU’s Cameron Thompson greeted freshman reliever Tyler Martin with a solo home run to right to open the third inning, but the NU left-hander didn’t allow any more damage in his pair of frames. Ben Klenke added two scoreless innings. Max Schreiber went two innings and gave up a two-out RBI single to Terrence Spurlin in the eighth before K-State added one in the ninth against Paul Tillotson.
Nebraska (20-11) put its first six men on base with two outs across three innings and none of them touched home. Leadoff men reached in the next three innings and were also stranded despite multiple hard-hit balls that followed.
Kansas State (17-21) greeted Luensmann — making his first start since Feb. 22 — with a two-run first inning. Two-out RBI hits from Zach Kokoska and Chris Ceballos put the visitors on the board, and it would have been worse if not for a diving over-the-shoulder catch by Acker as he ran 30-plus yards toward the warning track in center field.
If nothing else, the Huskers feel like they have a valuable arm trending up.
Luensmann “showed a ton of progress, and I couldn’t have been more happy for him,” Acker said. “He’s gonna be back to where he was.”
Said Erstad: “It’s tough to see him go through this. But we’re going to keep trying to throw him out there and try to figure it out.”
The Huskers — playing eight of nine games away from Haymarket Park — face UNO at Werner Park at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.