Tempe, Ariz. – Jake Opitz’s two-run double highlighted five-run seventh inning, as Nebraska recorded its largest comeback win of the season, rallying for a 6-5 victory over Monmouth Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tempe Regional.
With the win, the Huskers (31-26) will play the loser of tonight’s match-up between Arizona State and UC Riverside Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. (central). Monmouth sees its season end with a 36-24-1 record.
Opitz, who was hitless in his first three at-bats, delivered the game’s decisive blow, a two-run double off reliever Kyle Breese that bounced over first baseman Andy Meyers’ head into right. The hit scored DJ Belfonte and Andrew Brown and capped the Huskers’ 13th come-from-behind win this season.
Trailing 4-1, the Huskers sent 11 men to the plate and got a trio of run-scoring hits with two outs to regain the lead. Bryce Nimmo started the rally with an infield single, stole second and scored on Jake Mort’s RBI single to make it 4-2 game. Monmouth starter Ryan Buch then walked DJ Belfonte, putting the tying run base. Reliever Brett Brach retired Craig Corriston for the second out before Brown’s RBI single to left pulled NU within a run. Opitz then quickly fell behind 0-2 before his run-scoring hit, and Andy Gerch continued his clutch postseason hitting, driving in Opitz, as he sent a 0-2 pitch into the gap in right center for a double to give NU a 6-4 lead.
Brown paced the Huskers with a 3-for-4 afternoon, while Opitz went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, his team-best 44th and 45th runs of the year.
Reliever Matt Foust, who came into the game after Monmouth put up four runs in the sixth, gutted his way through the eighth after the Hawks loaded the bases with no outs. Justin Braun’s sacrifice fly pulled Monmouth within 6-5, but the right-hander retired the next two hitters to preserve the lead. The Hawks threatened in the ninth and got the tying runner to second with two outs, but Foust got Mike Casale to fly out to left to end the game and collect his second win.
Foust, who had not earned a win since his season debut on Feb. 17, allowed one run on two hits over the final 3.2 innings to earn the victory and improve to 4-2 on the year. Brett Brach took the loss in relief, allowing the go-ahead run on one hit to drop to 3-8 on the season.
The contest developed into a pitchers duel between NU starter Tony Watson and Monmouth right-hander Ryan Buch, as the game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth.
Nebraska, which left runners in scoring position in each of the first three frames, drew first blood in the fourth, as Nimmo drove in Jeff Tezak with an RBI groundout. With one out, Jeff Tezak tripled into the corner in right and come home on Nimmo’s bounder to second.
Watson was cruising through the early, innings, allowing only one hit through five shutout innings before running into major trouble in the sixth. The Hawks then put up four runs, highlighted by Rick Niderhaus’ three-run homer, to take a 4-1 lead.
Kyle Higgins opened the sixth with a single before Kyle Messineo walked to put two on with no outs. Meyers tied the game at one with a RBI single to center before Neiderhaus sent a Watson offering over the fence in left center, just out of the grasp of Gerch, to give the Hawks a three-run cushion.
Watson had a no-decision, as he allowed four runs on five hits over 5.1 innings of work. The junior left-hander walked four and fanned one, as the Husker bats kept the season alive with the comeback in the seventh.
Bruch also pitched well for Monmouth in the no-decision, allowing four runs on seven hits over 6.1 innings, as the right-hander struck out five and walked one.
Notes: Nebraska has 49 come-from-behind wins since the start of the 2005 season...the largest deficit NU had overcome in a win this season was two runs...Nebraska improves to 8-7 in one-run games and 16-9 in games decided by two runs or less...Andrew Brown is hitting .471 (8-for-14) with a homer and four RBIs during his current five-game hit streak...Brown’s three-hit game was his first since May 12...Nebraska was 1-19 when trailing after six innings before Saturday, with the only previous win coming at No. 22 Alabama on March 10...Matt Foust’s victory was just the second win of his career, as he also picked up the win against Illinois State on Feb. 18...24 of Jake Opitz’s team-high 45 RBIs have come with two outs, as he leads the team in two-out RBIs...Andy Gerch has now driven in 21 of his 30 runs this season in two-out situations...Saturday’s win snaps a five-game NCAA losing streak dating back to the 2005 CWS...Nebraska now has won at least one game in 10 of its 11 NCAA Tournament appearances...Nebraska has not committed an error in four of its last five contests.