Published Monday, February 25, 2013 AT 3:26 PM / Updated at 5:41 PM
Baseball: Huskers are still fighting
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

The Texas base stealer hadn’t even finished wiping the dust off his pants Sunday, when NU coach Darin Erstad hopped out of the dugout, called for time and sprinted toward second base. The umpire called the runner safe. Erstad disagreed.

It was the second time during last weekend’s three-game series at Texas that Erstad entered the field of play, controlled yet clearly agitated, to prove a point — on Friday he’d requested an explanation for a home plate umpire’s decision not to award first base to Kash Kalkowski, who’d been hit by a pitch (also: Erstad and his coaches boisterously argued balls and strikes all game Friday).

Erstad’s competitive spirit hasn’t wavered, despite an 0-7 start. Nor has he allowed frustration to turn to desperation to prompt an overhaul of methodology.

This is the intentional example he’s setting for his players.

“If I hit that (panic) button, then they’ll hit that button,” Erstad said Sunday, after his team lost a 2-0 series finale at Texas. “And that’s just not going to happen.”

Erstad continued: “I want our guys to see where we’re going, what we have to face — so those offseason conditioning drills, every rep that we take means something. … They probably can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can.”

Actually, though, perhaps to Erstad’s surprise, it hasn’t been incredibly difficult for this veteran Nebraska squad to think positively.

The players’ perspective is this: The offense hasn’t clicked, but last season’s success substantiates assumptions of improvement. The starting pitchers have showed a mental toughness that didn’t exist last year (and the most consistent of the group, Kyle Kubat, hasn’t even thrown yet). Plus, the Huskers have probably played better defense than at any point last year.

“It’s going to click,” sophomore Pat Kelly said. “We know we’re right there. We’re close.”

Said senior Chad Christensen: “We knew these games were not going to be easy. Nothing’s going to be handed to us. We’re going to get back to work Tuesday and we’re going to be just fine.”

If they maintain that attitude into late-March, when Big Ten play begins, you’d think the Huskers would start seeing some sort of payoff for these early season tests. Senior Josh Scheffert can only assume as much.

“We’re going to battle to the end, regardless. I have complete confidence in that,” Scheffert said.

More on last weekend’s action is below…

Setting the tone on the mound: Nebraska’s starting pitchers at Texas combined for an ERA of 3.57, striking out 16 and walking seven over 17 2/3 innings of work. They each pitched into the sixth, something three Husker starters never did in the same three-game weekend series last season.

Sanguinetti’s early slump: Nebraska’s two-hole hitter went hitless in 12 at-bats in his home state and has just two singles and a triple in seven games (.125). The senior was a catalyst at the top of the order last season, batting .323 last season. NU needs his bat back.

Opponent watch: Nebraska plays five straight games against UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton in the middle of March. And in case that spring break trip to California wasn’t daunting enough: The two teams are a combined 14-1 so far. Fullerton won all three at TCU last weekend. Irvine swept Baylor to begin the year.

Big Ten weekly awards: Two Buckeyes. Catcher Aaron Gretz (player) and starter Brad Goldberg (pitcher)

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.