LINCOLN — Going up against Indiana, the lone top-25 team in the Big Ten, the Nebraska baseball team needed to be at or near its best.
On Monday, with the series — and second place in the conference — on the line after Indiana won 8-6 Saturday and NU won 3-2 Sunday, the Huskers didn't get the pitching or hitting they needed. And the fielding wasn't up to par, too.
The result was a 10-2 loss to No. 14 Indiana in front of 2,768 sun-soaked fans Monday afternoon at Haymarket Park.
"I can handle losing," NU coach Darin Erstad said. "The part I'm disappointed in is the amount of walks. … I'm disappointed we didn't finish the game playing the way we can defensively. Those aren't winning plays. Against an average team, you might be able to get away with that. Against a team that has a very realistic shot of hosting regionals, you're going to get your tail whipped. And that's exactly what happened."
Five Nebraska pitchers combined to issue nine walks, including five free passes from starter Aaron Bummer, while offensively Nebraska had just two baserunners through the first six innings and didn't draw a walk all game. Nebraska also committed two errors and had a passed ball that led to three unearned runs.
"We're not there yet obviously," Erstad said. "We're going to go out there and battle and fight. But at the end of the day, we got it taken to us again. So obviously we've got to get better."
The loss dropped the Huskers to 21-25 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten, while Indiana improved to 36-9 overall and 13-5 in the conference. The Hoosiers also took over sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, just percentage points behind leader Minnesota at 11-4.
Nebraska is in a tie for third with Ohio State, which is 14-7 and owns the tiebreaker over the Huskers after taking two of three from NU earlier this season. NU, Indiana and Minnesota all have six conference games left, while Ohio State has three.
While NU no longer controls its destiny in the race for the Big Ten regular season crown, the Huskers can secure one of the top two seeds in the conference — and thus a first-round bye to open the Big Ten tourney — as they play at Minnesota Friday through Sunday.
After NU pitcher Kyle Kubat shut down the Hoosiers on Sunday, Indiana starter Aaron Slegers quieted the Husker bats Monday.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound right-handed sophomore held NU to two runs on five hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. He allowed just one hit and two total baserunners through the first six innings. Slegers, who improved to 7-1, had a shutout going until a sacrifice fly with one out in the ninth inning, causing the Indiana to go to the bullpen.
Of Slegers' 115 pitches, 86 were strikes (75 percent).
"Command. Fastball command," Erstad said of what was working for Sleger. "He's a tall guy. He's got a good angle to his fastball. It's very difficult to get your barrel behind the baseball of a guy like that pitching down in the zone. He was just pounding the zone. He didn't have to use his offspeed stuff much."
Meanwhile, of Bummer's 88 pitches, 50 were strikes (57 percent).
"They walked zero, we walked nine. End of story," Estad said. "(Sleger) had his way with us."
Indiana scored single runs in the first and second innings and then toke control of the game with three runs — on a three-run homer by Dustin DeMusth — in the fifth. The Hoosiers added two in the seventh and three in the ninth before Nebraska avoided being shut out for the sixth time this season with two runs in the bottom of the ninth.
"I thought we kept it together relatively well the first two days (of the three-game series)," Erstad said. "And today, well, you can just see that can't happen. You just have to throw strikes. And if you don't, when you play good teams, you're going to get beaten up on. It's kind of been the same song and dance all year."