Going into the ninth inning, Nebraska baseball led 5-2 over No. 9 Oklahoma State, three outs away from being 2-0 in regionals and headed to the regional championship.
However, one swing of the bat crushed all hopes for the upset win.
With two outs in the ninth inning, two runners on base and the score at 5-3, junior Trevor Boone, the Big 12’s leading home run hitter, destroyed a no-doubt home run to put Oklahoma State on top 6-5.
Junior pitcher Ben Leeper sealed the game in the bottom of the ninth, earning the save by retiring three Nebraska batters in order.
For seven innings, all possible momentum was in Nebraska’s favor.
The Huskers did all of their work early, scoring all five of their runs in the first three innings of the game.
Senior ace Matt Waldron starred for the Huskers, striking out 11 batters, walking none and allowing two runs in 7.2 innings pitched
Despite a strong overall performance, Waldron was shaky to start the game. In the top of the first inning, Oklahoma State’s first two batters hit singles. He struck out the next batter, but a fielding error from freshman Spencer Schwellenbach loaded the bases on the following at bat.
However, Waldron recovered nicely by retiring the next two batters to get out of the inning without a run given up.
For the second straight game, the Huskers started off hot. Sophomore Jaxon Hallmark led off the bottom of the second inning with a single, followed by another single from freshman Cam Chick. On the ensuing at-bat, sophomore Aaron Palensky launched a three-run home run out of the park to put Nebraska on the board first, followed by a bat flip and a point to the Husker bench.
Although the game was hosted by Oklahoma State, Nebraska fans made their voices heard early with a “Go Big Red” chant following the home run.
Two more runners reached in the frame, but neither were able to come across for a score.
Waldron gave up a double and hit a batter in the top of the second, but struck out senior Christian Funk to hold the Cowboys scoreless again.
In the bottom of the second, Hallmark got his second single of the game and Chick reached base on a walk. However, sophomore starting pitcher Parker Scott retired the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Waldron truly began to heat up in the top of the third. The first eight pitches he threw were strikes, leaving him one strike away from an immaculate inning. He threw a ball on the next pitch and Boone fouled off another pitch, but Waldron still was able to strike out the side in order in 11 total pitches.
To start the bottom of the third inning, Oklahoma State made a pitching change. Junior Jake Lyons came in on the mound to relieve the struggling Scott. That change didn’t seem to make a difference as Nebraska scored two runs in the inning.
Senior Angelo Altavilla led off with a walk, followed by sophomore Gunner Hellstrom reaching on a fielding error. Later in the inning, Freshman Colby Gomes hit a two-out, two-RBI single to extend the lead to 5-0.
From that point on, the game turned into a pitching duel. Lyons recovered and retired the next 14 Nebraska batters, while Waldron and the Huskers made multiple improbable defensive plays to hold Oklahoma State to just one run through seven innings.
One of the most memorable defensive innings for the Huskers came in the top of the fifth. Things did not start well, as Funk earned a double on a communication error in the Nebraska outfield on a fly ball.
However, the next two plays erased that memory quickly. Senior Colin Simpson popped up a ball into foul territory on the next at-bat. The ball looked as if it would go into the stands, but Altavilla reached out three rows into the crowd to make a miraculous catch.
Junior Joe Acker got the final out of the inning, diving to catch a fly ball in center field.
In the top of the sixth, the Cowboys scored their first run of the game off of a solo home run from junior Carson McCusker.
Waldron rebounded from the homer, not allowing another hit in the sixth or seventh inning. In the top of the eighth inning, signs of fatigue started to show. After retiring the first two batters, Waldron let up three straight hits, capped by an RBI double to score Boone and cut the deficit to 5-2. Freshman Shay Schanaman finished the inning for Nebraska, striking out junior Alix Garcia to finish off the inning.
Gomes came onto the mound in the top of the ninth. Gomes earned the save in Nebraska’s 8-5 win over UConn, and he looked to do the same in this game with the same run differential.
He retired the first batter before allowing a walk and a single to the next two. He then forced a fly out from Simpson, leaving Nebraska one out away from the regional championship. Junior Andrew Navigato followed that up with an RBI single to make the score 5-3. Then, Boone came up with a chance to tie the game with an extra base hit or take the lead with a homer. He opted for the latter, sending one deep into left field and flipping his bat almost immediately after the ball made contact.
Despite the heartbreaking defeat, all hope is not lost for the Huskers. The regionals are double elimination, meaning they will face UConn again tomorrow with a regional championship game berth on the line. If they win there, they will have to defeat Oklahoma State twice to take home the regional title and move onto the super regional.
Tomorrow’s game against UConn is set for tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. on ESPN3.