LINCOLN — The Nebraska baseball team entered the weekend on fire against Big Ten pitching.
On Friday, the Huskers continued their assault on the conference's pitchers — pounding out 15 hits in an 11-2 win over Ohio State. But the NU bats cooled off Saturday in a 6-5, 11-inning loss. And then they were ice cold for much of Sunday, as the Buckeyes held NU without a run for seven innings on the way to posting a 7-4 win at Haymarket Park.
"We just flat-out got beat," said NU coach Darin Erstad, whose Huskers dropped their first conference series of the season and fell to 14-19 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten. "They stuck it to us. On your home field, that's not easy to take. But they did it and you've got to tip your hat."
With Indiana — the conference leader entering the weekend with an 8-1 record — being swept by Michigan State, Nebraska had a prime opportunity to take over the top spot in the Big Ten. But instead the Huskers leave in a tie for third with Indiana, behind Minnesota (21-13, 7-2) and Michigan (20-14, 7-2).
After failing to hang on Saturday in a game which NU led 4-1 entering the seventh inning, the Huskers couldn't get anything going against Ohio State starter Brian King on Sunday.
King allowed just three hits in seven shutout innings before the Buckeyes (23-11, 7-5) went to the bullpen in the eighth inning. He had allowed only two hits through six innings, one of which was an infield hit that initially went down as an error but was later changed to a single by the official scorer.
According to Erstad, it was more of what King was doing on the mound that what the Huskers were or weren't doing at the plate.
"Batting practice was great. You can't tell me our guys just decided to turn it on at the end," the second-year head coach said. "That guy pitched well. He did a nice job. He was establishing both sides of the plate. ... He was making (NU's batters) not take good swings. As soon as they brought another guy in, it was back to normal and we gave them a fight there at the end."
Said NU's Michael Pritchard: "King did a good job. He's your typical Sunday lefty, throws 86 (mph) with a curveball and changeup. He was just making pitches and we were swinging under them. He competed and he was on today, and we weren't until the last inning."
Nebraska trailed just 3-0 going into the eighth inning, but the Buckeyes struck for four runs on six hits in the top of the eighth.
The Huskers started the bottom of the eighth with a walk, a double and a single, but they managed just one run after OSU got out of the inning with a strikeout and a double play.
The Huskers didn't go down quietly in the ninth, though.
Nebraska's first five batters reached base and the Huskers had the tying run on first base with two outs before Ohio State got out of the inning to secure the win.
"Baseball, sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down," Pritchard said. "Today was one of those days where we were down for eight innings. And then it was like new life in dugout for the last inning. ... One through nine, nobody is going to quit on anybody. We're going to grind it out until the last out."
After pounding out 15 hits Friday, Nebraska was hitting .367 in Big Ten play this season.
But Nebraska hit just .260 Saturday and Sunday against Ohio State.
"They're my sleeper pick of the Big Ten," Erstad said of the Buckeyes. "That was the best top to bottom rotation we have seen in the Big Ten. They've got quality starters, they've got a very deep bullpen and they've got guys on the left and right side in the bullpen who can compete."
The Huskers are back home Tuesday and Wednesday against Arkansas (25-12), which is coached by former Husker coach Dave Van Horn. Tuesday's game is set for 6:35 p.m.
Nebraska is just 6-15 in non-conference games. Arkansas has one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, sporting a 1.72 ERA.
"They have the best team ERA in the country," Erstad said. "They're built on pitching. They played in the national title game last year. Coach Van Horn obviously basically built what we are standing on today. I think it's just awesome he's coming back. ...
"It's an opportunity for our guys to compete at the highest level."
UPDATE: Because of weather forecasts, the two-game series with Arkansas has been made a doubleheader Tuesday. The first game will be at 3:05 p.m., with the second game set to start no earlier than 6:35 p.m. The second game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.