OKLAHOMA CITY – Robbie Palkert sat in the bowels of the Chickasaw Bricktown baseball stadium and let out a long sigh. This was a burden that these Nebraska seniors could finally drop.
So many numbers pointed to another group in an NCAA regional. The Huskers struck a season record 16 times. They allowed 19 hits, and the senior owner suffered one of his worst starts of the season. An early hole of three races seemed mountainous.
But the third favorite Nebraska found some of the magic he used to use in Bricktown since his 12 days of glory. The Huskers abandoned their chronic struggles against the release of lefties and rose to deliver an 8-5 victory Friday over Connecticut's second favorite, which was as rough as it was relieved.
"I think we all put that on our backs and said, 'No, we're done with this,'" said Palkert, a junior reliever. "We hate to see in the news & # 39; Darin Erstad can not win a regional game." "That's not true. This team can win baseball games. This team can win a regional match. We are ready to fight. "
The postseason victory is NU's first in five years, breaking a five-game regional skid that dates back to 2014. He won his first regional game in 2008, and he had not done that on the road in 19 years. Erstad, in his eighth year as coach, improves to 2-6 in the NCAA tournament.
The Huskers and veteran right-hander Matt Waldron will face the fourth seed at Harvard or best seed Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday. They are also guaranteed to return to play Sunday at the home of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
So how in the world did Nebraska (32-22) survive a UConn team that collected at least two hits in the first seven innings and six extra-base hits?
Issuing walks did not help. The same did persuade four double games, including three in the first four innings. Each infielder made some type of stoppage or catch that directly or indirectly saved a run.
"We left some strong outs and strong punches, but they kept attacking," Erstad said. "When you do that, you have an opportunity to fight."
Some long-awaited successes against a southpaw also allowed for some margin of error. Huskies junior ace and professional prospects, Mason Feole, lasted more than five shots and 108 pitches, while allowing seven earned runs, the worst of the season. Husker's hitters took advantage of the hanging sliders and other pitches that did not break, especially in a third inning of four runs when they moved forward forever.
"We returned the advantage in what seemed like 5 minutes," said UConn coach Jim Penders. "Only bang-bang-bang, they were twirling some balls out of it."
The bottom of the first entry only brought the value of a drama game. UConn started with a single and dropped a touch of sacrifice next to first base. With second baseman Alex Henwood covering the bag, the runner's batting helmet flew off just as Henwood was tracking the shot in his glove. The ball, however, hit him in the mouth and dropped at least two teeth, forcing him to leave the game.
Erstad said Henwood, who hit .279 with two homers this spring, is strong enough that he can not be ruled out on Saturday.
"It's pretty messy, it's pretty bloated," Erstad said. "Just a weird thing, freak."
With two at stake and nobody out, the Huskies connected a double play in an emerging touch. Then catcher Pat Winkel continued his seventh home run of the season, team leader, in a right-field attack.
The 2-0 lead did not last long in a game that had only a 1-2-3 inning. Angelo Altavilla, a Nebraska senior, led the second with a shot that landed just past the "350" sign in left field. UConn responded with a couple of RBI singles from David Langer and John Toppa in the bottom half.
But a third of four races gave Nebraska its first lead in its last 40 innings in the NCAA's regional action dating back to 2014. The first six Huskers reached, five singles, including RBI hits from Cam Chick, Spencer Schwellenbach and Altavilla.
"Many times, bats are not really there against lefties," said Altavilla, the senior third baseman. "But it's regional time and you have to do what you can to win, I think we came out and showed it right away against a pretty good pitcher."
The teams exchanged races in the fifth. NU's Gunner Hellstrom threw a two-out single, scoring runs to the center in the top half, then Christian Fedko made his own RBI left a few minutes later for UConn.
The representatives of the American Athletic Conference did not score again, with reliever Palkert shooting 3⅓ scoreless innings on 57 pitches. He scattered five hits and struck out four.
"They can have small bat singles broken in the middle or singles in the six hole or they can break balls in the wall," Palkert said. "But if nobody is at the base, it does not matter, you can not be discouraged if you give up a coup."
The Huskers offense added a run in the sixth with a single producer of Aaron Palensky RBI to go up 7-5 and another in the ninth with a Joe Acker with double points to the left. Colby Gomes worked the ninth to win his 13th save.
It added to the first victory of an attempt by the Nebraska team to turn their nasty recent narrative into something memorable.
"Pretty standard problem for this version of the Huskers," said Erstad. "When you think something is going to happen, the opposite happens."
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