LINCOLN — For much of the season, the Nebraska baseball team has been losing the close games.
Against Northwestern in their Big Ten home-opening series over the weekend, the Huskers found themselves in three tight games in the late innings. This time, Nebraska found a way to win all three of them — completing the sweep with an 8-6 win Sunday afternoon at Haymarket Park.
"We've been doing a good job early in the year of finding ways to lose," said Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad, whose Huskers entered the weekend 2-9 in games decided by two or fewer runs this season. "In almost every one of our games in that situation, it's been close. We found some ways to lose games, and now we're starting to find ways to win games.
"Just like you can learn how to lose, you can learn how to win. We're seeing that. We're starting to see guys with the big two-out RBIs late in the game when you're sticking with the right approach."
After rallying from down 8-4 in the bottom of the seventh Friday to win 10-9 in 16 innings and coming back from a 4-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh to win 8-5 Saturday, the Huskers never trailed in Sunday's series finale.
But after jumping out to a 3-0 lead through two innings, Northwestern battled back to tie the score 4-all in the top of the fifth — how the score remained until Nebraska plated one run in the sixth and another three in the seventh before holding on for the win.
With the sweep, Nebraska improved to 11-15 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten — making Nebraska second in the conference, one game behind Indiana (22-3, 6-0). The Huskers also remained undefeated at home, improving to 7-0 at Haymarket Park.
Despite sweep, just the second conference series sweep for Nebraska since 2008, Erstad didn't sound overjoyed after Sunday's game.
He wasn't happy the Huskers let the Wildcats (10-9, 2-4) back in the game after the early lead and then nearly again with two unearned runs in the eighth inning.
"The part I don't like is we're not finishing games," Erstad said. "Right there we've got a chance to finish out a series and we just go out and decide not to play defense. We've been tremendous defensively and we just decide to take a couple innings off. When they scored their runs, we didn't take care of the baseball. Going forward, that can't happen."
On the other side, Nebraska was aided in the game by seven Northwestern errors that led to five unearned runs.
"You control what you can control," said Erstad, whose Huskers committed a season-high three errors in the field. "All we can control is putting the ball in play and putting pressure on people. That's what we do offensively. On the mound, you throw strikes and don't hit people. When you do that, you're pretty good.
"In college baseball, it's all about taking advantage of mistakes. Whoever screws up less usually wins. That's how it is."
After not even making the trip to Illinois last weekend because of Big Ten travel limitations, Nebraska starter Tyler Niederklein gave the Huskers four innings of one-run baseball.
Niederklein had off-season hip surgery and had appeared in just four games this season, allowing six runs in 6 1/3 innings coming into Sunday's game. It was only his second start of the season, as he also started Tuesday against Kansas State in a game the Huskers lost 10-8.
"He threw strikes," Erstad said. "He's had a tough time throwing strikes lately. … He gave us some innings and gave us a chance to win."
While the hip has caused him problems at times this season, Niederklein said he felt good on the mound Sunday.
"I was able to stay loose," Niederklein said. "It's been kind of hard, but you've just got to keep a positive attitude and keep grinding it out. It's tough, but hopefully I'll start to see some improvement."
Reliever Zach Hirsch picked up the win for Nebraska, allowing no runs and two hits in 2 2/3 innings. Dylan Vogt pitched the final two innings, allowing two unearned runs.
Going up against a Northwestern pitching staff that entered the weekend with some pretty impressive numbers, a 2.46 ERA while holding opponents to a .216 batting average, Nebraska's bats did some damage in the three-game series.
The Huskers pounded out 52 hits and scored 26 runs, having at least 14 hits in each game.
"Fifty hits speaks for itself," said second baseman Pat Kelly, who went 8-for-10 Saturday and Sunday after going 0-for-9 at the plate in Friday's marathon game. "We're feeling good at the plate. We've just got to keep it going."
The Huskers return to action Tuesday for another contest at Kansas State, the first of four straight games on the road for Nebraska before the Huskers host in-state rival Creighton on April 9. Nebraska is 4-15 on the road this season.