A pair of unearned runs proved to be the different on Sunday afternoon at Goodyear Park, as the Nebraska baseball team fell 4-3 to the Utah Utes at the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Huskers were in search of a weekend sweep of the Pac-12 Conference after beating No. 1 Oregon State on Friday and Washington on Saturday, but instead had to settle for a 2-1 weekend.
Nebraska starter Chance Sinclair got off to a bumpy start, walking the first two Utah batters he faced. The righty then got a groundout and a strikeout, but issued his third walk of the inning to load the bases. Sinclair nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but a two-out error by shortstop Jake Placzek allowed the Utes to score an unearned run. Sinclair came right back and got a fly out that stranded three runners and limited Utah’s damage to one run.
Nebraska’s offense got the run back in the bottom of the frame on a one-out single from Michael Pritchard. With Placzek on second, Pritchard extended his on-base streak to 49 games with a hard shot up the middle. Pat Kelly followed with a single, but Utah starter Dalton Carroll got a double-play ball off the bat of Blake Headley to end the first inning.
The squads then went scoreless for two innings, before Utah retook the lead with a run in the top of the fourth. NU reliever Jeff Chesnut retired the first two Utes he faced, but then gave up a double and a pair of singles that scored a run. With a pair on, Chesnut struck out Max Shuman looking to end the inning.
The Utes pushed their lead to 3-1 in the top of the fifth with four singles off freshman reliever Derek Burkamper. The Husker bats did answer though in the bottom of the frame with one run, as Placzek came through with a sacrifice fly that scored Christian Cox, who reached earlier in the inning on an error.
After Utah pushed its lead back to two runs, 4-2, in the top of the sixth on an unearned run, Kelly got the bottom of the frame going with a double to left-center field. Headley and Austin Christensen each followed with singles that plated Kelly, before Ryan Boldt laid down a sacrifice bunt that put two Huskers in scoring position with one out. With the tying run just 90-feet away, Utah reliever Bret Helton got a strikeout and a groundout that ended the Husker rally and kept Utah ahead by one, 4-3.
The Huskers threatened in the bottom of the eighth with a two-out walk to Christensen and a single by Boldt, but Helton got Cox to ground out, stranding the tying run at second base. Nebraska got the tying run on again in the ninth following a two-out walk to Placzek, but Helton struck out Pritchard swinging to earn his first save of the season.
The Huskers continue their non-conference slate next weekend with a trip to Charleston, S.C., for a three-game series with The Citadel. The series kicks off on Friday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. (CT), continues on Saturday at 1 p.m. and concludes on Sunday at 11 a.m.