Lincoln – Oral Roberts scored early and often and left-hander Kelly Minissale tossed a two-hit shutout over 8.1 innings to lead the third-seeded Golden Eagles to an 8-0 win over top-seeded Nebraska in the Sunday elimination game of the NCAA Lincoln Regional at Hawks Field.
Minissale’s stellar pitching performance allowed ORU to advance into Sunday’s 6:05 p.m. regional championship game against second-seeded UC Irvine (40-16). The Golden Eagles will need to knock off the Anteaters in order to force a second title game on Monday afternoon in Lincoln. Nebraska finished its season with a 41-16-1 mark.
Oral Roberts improved to 48-13 on the year and staved off elimination for the second straight day by shutting out the host Huskers for just the second time in the six-year history of Hawks Field. The last time NU was blanked came in a complete-game, five-hit shutout by Southwest Missouri State’s Bob Zimmermann on June 1, 2003, in an NCAA Lincoln Regional championship game.
Minissale, ORU’s regular centerfielder, improved to 3-3 on the season with his second straight shutout to extend his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 17.1. Minissale also tossed a complete-game, seven-hit shutout at Wichita State on May 13. His other win came in a complete game against Arkansas, another NCAA Tournament qualifier. Minissale struck out two, walked three and hit three while dealing 134 pitches.
"What we've tried to do with Kelly during the year is pitch him against all the premier clubs in the country," ORU Coach Rob Walton said. "There's a little reason behind that. We knew we were going to need him in a regional, so we didn't pitch him in our conference weekends because it's really not going to do a whole lot of good for us because we really need our center fielder. The only way we could develop him was to throw him against Wichita State twice as well as Arkansas, so he's in those big environments. It was one of the best performances that I've had as a head coach in tough conditions, a tough ballpark, a No. 1 seed in the tournament. For me, it doesn't get any better than that."
ORU produced plenty of runs to give Minissale a cushion from start to finish. The Golden Eagles pounded 15 hits off four Husker pitchers, led by Brendan Duffy’s perfect 3-for-3 day at the plate that included a walk, a hit by a pitch and three runs scored out of the leadoff spot.
Michael Notaro added two hits and three RBIs, including a towering three-run homer run in the third, while All-American Brian Van Kirk, Ben Petralli and David Genao each added two hits and one RBI for the Golden Eagles.
Tyler Farst and Jake Opitz recorded the only hits for the Huskers, while Thad Weber took the loss on the hill by surrendering six earned runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings of work.
Opitz said Minissale earned the victory with an outstanding effort.
"All credit goes to him because he did a good job," Opitz said. "We were undisciplined in counts that we shouldn’t have been, in counts that were hitters’ advantage counts. I thought sometimes we tried to do a little too much, but other than that, he pitched pretty well. When you have a guy who is pitching well and you’re undisciplined, it’s hard to produce a lot of runs when you’re doing that."
The Golden Eagles scratched across a run in the first inning, sparked by a leadoff bunt single by Duffy, who advanced to second an a sacrifice bunt by Minissale. Weber struck out Petralli swinging on a pitch in the dirt. Mitch Abeita threw out Petralli at first for the second out, but Duffy advanced to third on the throw. Van Kirk then drove in his 74th run of the year with a two-out RBI single to right to give the Golden Eagles a 1-0 lead.
That proved to be all the runs Minissale would need, but the high-flying Golden Eagle offense provided a steady supply of runs for the rest of the day.
In the bottom of the second, Notaro led off with a single to right and advanced to second on a Weber wild pitch. Notaro advanced to third on Genao’s groundout back to Weber, before Adam Younger drove in Notaro with a one-out, RBI single to left field to make it 2-0. Weber got Juan Martinez to ground into an inning-ending doubleplay, but ORU continued the scoring in the third.
Duffy ripped a leadoff double to the left-center gap to open the third. Minissale popped out to third on a bunt attempt, before Duffy moved to third on a groundout by Petralli. Duffy then scored on a two-out passed ball to make it 3-0. Van Kirk restarted the ORU rally with a two-out single to left, before Weber hit David Groth to put runners at first and second. Notaro then delivered the game’s biggest hit with a three-run blast into the parking lot beyond the right-field fence to give the Golden Eagles a commanding 6-0 lead after three.
Casey Hauptman entered the game in relief of Weber and got the Huskers out of the third, but Duffy continued to cause NU problems with a one-out walk in the fourth. Minissale then singled through the right side to put runners at the corners with one out to chase Hauptman. Zach Herr entered the contest for NU and was greeted by Petralli’s one-out, RBI single to left. Herr retired Van Kirk and Groth to end the inning with ORU leading, 7-0.
Herr shut down the Golden Eagles for the first time in the fifth, but ORU added its final insurance run in the sixth. Petralli led off with a single to right, before Groth slapped a single to right to put runners at the corners with one out. Herr hit Notaro to load the bases before giving way to NU’s fourth pitcher of the day, Mike Nesseth. Genao drove in the final run of the game by legging out a fielder-choice groundout to score Petralli from third.
Although the scoring was done by the end of the sixth, plenty of drama remained. Minissale carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Farst ripped a leadoff single through the right side. Despite the hit, Minissale continued to sail along by inducing a doubleplay groundball from DJ Belfonte.
After a 1-2-3 eighth inning, Minissale opened the ninth bidding to become just the second opposing pitcher in the six-year history of Hawks Field to throw a complete-game shutout. But Opitz opened the ninth with a sharp single to center. Opitz took second uncontested, before Abeita popped out to second for the first out of the inning. Minissale then hit Farst to put runners at first and second with one out, and Mike Jarmin replaced Minissale on the mound. Jarmin walked Belfonte to load the bases for Craig Corriston, who struck out looking before Dan Johnston grounded out to the end the game.
Despite the loss, Nebraska Coach Mike Anderson said he was proud of the Huskers for their achievements during the season.
"This group has left a nice legacy, and I can’t say enough about them and how proud I am of them, not just on the field, but off the field," Anderson said. "This game can be an extremely humbling game, and obviously that is the case today. This one day won’t represent to me what these kids represent, and I’m proud of them for that."
Nebraska Game Notes
With the loss, Nebraska ended its season with a 41-16-1 record, including a 29-5-1 mark at Hawks Field, which tied for the second-most home wins in school history. The Huskers also dropped to 31-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 14-7 mark at Hawks Field (19-7 overall at home including games played at Buck Beltzer). Nebraska lost seven of its final nine games to end the season.
NU’s 8-0 loss was its second-worst defeat in the seven-year history of Hawks Field. The worst home loss in Hawks Field history was a 14-3 defeat to Kansas on April 28, 2002, the first year the park opened. Nebraska had suffered three seven-run losses in the history of Hawks field, including a 7-0 defeat to Southwest Missouri State in the 2003 NCAA Lincoln Regional championship game.
NU was shut out at Hawks Field for just the second-time ever as the only other occurrence came exactly five years ago today when Bob Zimmermann tossed a five-hit shutout to lead Southwest Missouri State to a 7-0 victory in the NCAA Lincoln Regional championship game on June 1, 2003. The Huskers went 149 home games between the two shutouts.
After recording only four hits on Saturday, Nebraska managed a Hawks Field record-low two hits on Sunday. Through the first five games of the NCAA Lincoln Regional, the Huskers are the only team not to record at least 10 hits in every game.
Tyler Farst got the Huskers’ first hit of the game with a leadoff single in the top of the seventh inning. The hit was Nebraska’s first in 12.1 innings dating back to the third inning of Saturday’s loss to UC Irvine.
Nebraska trailed 6-0 after three innings of play, marking the Huskers’ largest deficit at Hawks Field this season. The largest previous deficit the Huskers had faced was five runs in a 9-4 loss to Arkansas on March 19.
NU was held to a season-low run total at Hawks Field for the second straight game on Sunday. The Huskers had scored at least three runs in 36 consecutive games at Hawks Field (dating back to 2007) before being held to two against UC Irvine on Saturday and zero against Oral Roberts on Sunday. On the season, NU was held to two runs or less just seven times.
NU lost back-to-back home games for the first time this season and for the first time since losing the first three home games of May in 2007.
Nebraska trailed at Hawks Field for the eighth straight game (5-3 record in those contests). Overall, the Huskers trailed at home for the 12th time in their last 13 home games (8-4 record in those contests).
Bryce Nimmo added his third stolen base of the NCAA Lincoln Regional on Sunday. Nimmo entered the tournament having gone 39 consecutive games without a stolen base.
Nebraska surrendered at least 10 hits in 10 of its last 13 games, including all three games at the NCAA Lincoln Regional.
Jake Opitz singled in the top of the ninth to finish his career on a career-best 14-game hitting streak. During the streak, Opitz hit .421 (24-for-57) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 13 walks. He reached base safely in 26 of his final 27 games.
Mitch Abeita failed to reach base safely for only the second time in 56 games this season.
Oral Roberts Game Notes
Oral Roberts improved to 48-13 on the season with the win and 15-8 on the road. With the win, ORU advanced to an NCAA Regional final for the fourth time in five years under Coach Rob Walton (lone regional championship came in 2006 at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional).
The shutout was Oral Roberts’ sixth of the season and first combined shutout of the year. ORU’s last shutout was thrown by Jerry Sullivan against Southern Utah in the championship game of the Summit League Tournament on May 24.
Starting pitcher Kelly Minissale was just two outs away from recording his second straight shutout. Minissale has now thrown 17.1 consecutive scoreless innings and has not allowed a run since surrendering six runs in only one inning of a start at South Dakota State on May 4.
Minissale improved to 3-3 on the season, with all three wins coming against NCAA Tournament teams, including a complete-game shutout at Wichita State on May 13 and a complete-game effort against Arkansas on April 15 in which he allowed only two runs.
The Golden Eagles are now 35-3 this season when scoring first and 18-1 when scoring in the first inning.
ORU scored at least seven runs for the eighth-straight game. The Golden Eagles have now scored 23 runs through their first three games of the NCAA Lincoln Regional.
Oral Roberts recorded 15 hits on Sunday, marking its fifth straight game with at least 10 hits. The Golden Eagles recorded 14 hits on Saturday and 11 hits on Friday and have now recorded double-digit hits in 11 of their last 12 games.
After being outscored 8-2 after three innings on Friday, Oral Roberts has outscored its last two opponents a combined 11-1 after the first three innings.
Michael Notaro hit his 10th home run of the season on Sunday. Notaro has nine home runs in his last 19 games after homering just once through the first 26 games of the season. Notaro joins Brian Van Kirk (18 homers) and David Genao (10) as Golden Eagles with double-digit home runs this season.
Brian Van Kirk finished with one RBI in the game and now has 74 on the season. He now ranks seventh on the Oral Roberts single-season chart.
Brendan Duffy reached base in all five of his plate appearances, finishing 3-for-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Duffy added two doubles and scored three runs while finishing one shy of his career best in both hits and runs.
Duffy was one of five Golden Eagles to record a multi-hit game joining Ben Petralli (2-for-5), Brian Van Kirk (2-for-5), Michael Notaro (2-for-4) and David Genao (2-for-4).
Genao finished 2-for-4 on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to a eight games, matching a season-high. In three games at the NCAA Lincoln Regional, Genao is 8-for-15 with a homer and five RBIs.