FAYETTEVILLE – Holding hard-hitting Arkansas to just four hits, the Nebraska Cornhuskers shucked out of the loser’s bracket to beat the heretofore unbeaten in the Fayetteville Regional Razorbacks, 5-3 late Sunday night and forced a winner take all championship game at 6 tonight at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Tonight’s winner advances to the best 2 out of 3 Super Regional against Ruston (La.) Regional winner North Carolina State.
Tonight’s loser sacks the bats for 2021.
Beaten 5-1 by Arkansas in Saturday night’s winner’s bracket game after edging since eliminated Northeastern, 8-6 Friday night, Coach Will Bolt’s 34-13 Big Ten champion Cornhuskers Sunday afternoon eliminated, 18-4, the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders that Arkansas outlasted, 13-8 Friday afternoon opening the tournament.
Nationally No. 1 SEC champion/SEC Tournament champion 48-11 Arkansas only totaled five hits beating Nebraska 5-1 Saturday night and netted just four singles Sunday night against Nebraska left-handed starter Kyle Perry and Spencer Schwellenbach, the shortstop doubling as the Cornhuskers ace reliever.
Perry, a year off Tommy John surgery, lasted 4 1-3 replaced by Schwellenbach, the winner with runners at first and third one out in the fifth.
Schwellenbach struck out Cayden Wallace and retired Charlie Welch on a fly to center. The right-hander pitched the final 4 2-3 innings scoreless on just one hit.
Arkansas did all its scoring in a 3-run third off Perry with two runs scoring on the same wild pitch after Wallace’s RBI single and taking second on center fielder Hallmark misplaying his hit. Wallace scored from the second on the wild pitch compounded by catcher Griffin Everitt’s wild throw upon retrieval.
Otherwise the Hogs stranded six.
“We had some chances to drive in some runs, we didn’t do it,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Give Nebraska’s pitchers credit. They got out of some jams. They just outplayed us and they beat us, and they’ve been here (beating NJIT on Sunday afternoon) all day. Just disappointed with that. But we still have another opportunity tomorrow, so we just need to regroup and play better.”
And hit better.
“We haven’t swung the bats well really the whole weekend, except for a couple innings on Friday (against NJIT),” Van Horn said of Arkansas’ five home runs against the Highlanders. “Really yesterday we didn’t swing the bats very well. Today we didn’t swing the bats very well. We’re facing good pitching obviously and a team that knows how to win, in (Big Ten champion) Nebraska. We just have to be better.”
Hard to get better than Schwellenbach, 0.57 earned run average in 31 innings, say the Huskers.
“He’s been our guy all year,” Nebraska catcher Everitt said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else at the end of the game with the ball to put them away.”
Beset with two walks and 1-out wild pitch Schwellenbach ultimately put the Hogs away stranding runners at the corners in the ninth.
“We had a chance to get him on the ropes a couple of times and he didn’t let us” Van Horn said. “Especially there in the ninth. He made some really big pitches when he needed them.”
Schwellenbach was if he ever got unnerved in the ninth.
Too tired to be nervous, he said
“I was running out of gas,” Schwellenbach said. “I mean, that was probably my longest outing of the year. My whole body was sore, but I got through it. That’s all that matters.”
Arkansas starter Lael Lockhart, Sunday’s loser now 3-3, got tagged for Jaxon Hallmark’s solo home run two batters into the first inning.
He then both benefitted and was victimized thereafter by Arkansas’ uncharacteristically up and down defense.
Flawless defeating Nebraska Saturday night, the Hogs committed three errors Sunday. The first, charged to third baseman Cullen Smith for a throw pulling first baseman Brady Slavens on Logan Foster’s leadoff grounder, haunted the Hogs in the third. Foster got doubled to third by Joe Acker and scored on Hallmark’s sacrifice fly.
Slavens, striking out four times returning from a 5-game absence with an ankle injury, proved his arm sound. The first baseman had two assists in the third gunning Acker at home trying to score on Schwellenbach’s grounder, Then in an unusual 6-3-1 play with Lockhart covering third, Slavens relayed after shortstop Jalen Battles’ great play nearly denied Brice Matthews’ infield single with Schwellenbach trying to sneak from first to third.
Left fielder Wallace and center fielder Christian Franklin also turned doubleplays, doubling out runners after catches.
Nebraska won on its 3-run fifth. Acker, Hallmark and Schwellenbach consecutively singled with Schwellenbach knocking one home.
Right-handed Ryan Costeiu relieved, with a strikeout Everett grounded one that diving second baseman Robert Moore couldn’t prevent from becoming the 2-RBI game-winner into right.
Costeiu and then Connor Noland kept the Cornhuskers in check and reliever Kevin Kopps’ rubber arm finally at rest.
Kopps had thrown 24 pitches relieving scoreless from the fourth through sixth innings to be Arkansas’ come from down 3-0 winner Friday afternoon over NJIT and Saturday night threw 71 pitches and a final four scoreless innings saving starter Patrick Wicklander’s 5-1 victory over Nebraska.
Asked Sunday’s postgame who starts Monday night and if Kopps could relieve, Van Horn replied, “Not 100 percent sure yet, so probably I don’t want to say anything yet. Should know in the morning.”