Nebraska went 57-15 and reached the College World Series for the third time in 2005.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

2005 College World Series

By NU Athletic Communications

2005 Nebraska Baseball Highlight Video

While the 2005 Nebraska baseball season will be remembered for many things, it was the never-say-die attitude that captured the hearts of Husker fans around the state.

Never was the Huskers’ true spirit more evident than on college baseball’s grandest stage the College World Series in Omaha. Trailing 5-3 in the ninth inning, the Huskers were down to their last at-bat, looking to extend the most successful season in school history. As they had done 20 times during the season, Nebraska began to rally, opening the inning with two hits before Alex Gordon’s RBI single pulled NU within 5-4. Two batters later, freshman Andy Gerch provided one of the most memorable moments in school history, sending an 0-2 pitch into the left-field bleachers, giving the Huskers a 7-5 lead.

Alas, the lead was short-lived, as Arizona State scored twice in the bottom of the ninth including a game-tying homer by Jeff Larish before ending one of the most memorable games in recent CWS history two innings later for an 8-7 ASU win.

For Head Coach Mike Anderson, the heart shown by the Huskers was a characteristic that he saw develop throughout the year.

“This was a resilient group all year long,” Anderson said. “We fought and fought, and it didn’t surprise me at all that we scored those runs in the ninth.”

While its resiliency allowed the Huskers to never be out of a contest, Anderson credited the team’s selflessness as the catalyst for going from eighth to first in the Big 12 and returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2002.

For Nebraska’s eight seniors, 2005 capped a remarkable five-year run in which NU won 237 games, claimed three Big 12 titles and made three College World Series appearances.

“We’re at the World Series this year because we had a group of young men that gave of themselves for their team,” Anderson said. “It’s the most unique group of young men that I’ve ever been around. They bought into the team concept. They understood the team concept
and got to where they are at because of the team concept. I can’t say how proud I am of them.”

A total of six Huskers were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including four players in the top 10 rounds. Alex Gordon became Nebraska’s fifth first-round pick, as he was chosen by Kansas City with the No. 2 overall pick. Brian Duensing and Zach Kroenke joined Gordon as players taken in the first five rounds, as they were picked in the third and fifth rounds, respectively. The trio’s selections marked the first time that three Huskers were taken in the first five rounds of the draft.

Nebraska relied on the combination of a dominant pitching staff, strong defense and clutch hitting to put together a 57-15 record and sweep the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles en route to a berth in the College World Series. The 57 wins not only led the nation, but easily topped the previous school mark of 51 set in 2000. The Huskers finished the year ranked as high as fifth in the national polls after opening the year at No. 50 in Baseball America’s preseason issue.

On the mound, Nebraska put together one of the most dominant staffs in Big 12 history. The Huskers ranked second nationally with a Big 12 low 2.69 ERA, the best by a Husker staff since 1969. NU set single- season records for wins (57), saves (23) and strikeouts (538), while holding opponents to a .227 average.

The heart of the staff was a four-man rotation of right-handers Joba Chamberlain and Johnny Dorn and southpaws Brian Duensing and Zach Kroenke. The quartet combined for a 37-6 record, as all earned All-Big 12 honors in 2005.

A transfer from Division II Nebraska-Kearney, Chamberlain took the Big 12 by storm, going 10-2 with a 2.81 ERA en route to third-team All-America honors. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-league pick, Chamberlain was second in the Big 12 with 130 strikeouts and ranked in the top 10 in seven categories. The sophomore right-hander recorded five double-digit strikeout performances, including 15 against New Mexico in just his second start as a Husker. Chamberlain saved his best performance of the year until the Super Regional against Miami, which he fanned 13 and allowed one run over eight innings to out-duel Cesar Carillo in a 3-1 win.

Dorn became one of the Big 12’s top freshmen, going 12-2 to capture third-team All-America honors. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, Dorn went 12-2 with a 2.16 ERA, tying for the league lead in wins and ranking among
the top five in the Big 12 in wins, ERA and opponent batting average. Dorn was superb in conference play, going 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA, as he earned the clinching win in five of NU’s eight series victories.

Duensing returned from missing nearly two full seasons with an elbow injury to post an 8-0 record and earn All-Big 12 honors. Duensing split time between the rotation and the bullpen, but saved his best effort for the Big 12 title game, when he tossed 7.2 innings of shutout ball, as NU blanked Baylor, 1-0, to win the conference tournament title.

Kroenke rounded out the quartet, going 7-2 with a 2.82 ERA to pick up second-team all-conference accolades. The Omaha native saved his best efforts for NU’s biggest moments, tossing a complete game against Kansas State to help clinch the Big 12 title. Two weeks later, Kroenke struck out a career-high 13 in a complete-game masterpiece against Creighton in the regional title game.

While NU’s rotation was the envy of much of college baseball, the Huskers also relied on a talented bullpen led by closer Brett Jensen. The junior ranked third in the country with 16 saves to earn All-Big 12 honors, while set-up man Dustin Timm also earned All-Big 12 honors.

Offensively, the Huskers were led by the leadership and all-around abilities of third baseman Alex Gordon. A two-time All-American, Gordon etched his name in Husker history by becoming the first NU baseball player to be named national player of the year. The junior from
Lincoln hit .372 with 19 homers, 66 RBIs and 23 stolen bases, as he topped the Big 12 in six categories and
became the first player in seven years to repeat as conference player of the year.

Gordon was one of four hitters to receive All-Big 12 honors in 2005. Senior fi rst baseman Curtis Ledbetter garnered first-team All-Big 12 honors, hitting .319 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs. He ranked fourth in the Big 12 in homers and was named MVP of the Big 12
Tournament, leading NU back to its fourth conference tournament title since 1999.

While Gordon and Ledbetter provided most of the offensive firepower, seniors Joe Simokaitis and Daniel Bruce provided leadership with their relentless aggressiveness on the field to instrumental roles in 2005.

Simokaitis finished his career as the Big 12’s all-time leader in assists and routinely made spectacular plays look routine. A 10th-round pick in the MLB Draft, Simokaitis put together the best offensive year of his career, hitting .310 with three homers, 37 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.

Bruce shined in both the classroom and on the diamond in 2005. A second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American, he was named Nebraska’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year and earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship. Bruce also hit .322 with five homers and 32 RBIs to earn All-Big 12 honors.

Fans also turned out in record numbers to watch the Huskers in 2005, as NU averaged a school-record 4,984 fans per home game to rank sixth nationally. Hawks Field drew seven of its 10 largest crowds in 2005, highlighted by a school-record crowd of 8,771 for the Super Regional clinching win over Miami. NU enjoyed immense success at home, going 33-4 at its home park, including a perfect 5-0 during the NCAA Tournament.

While Nebraska was dominant at home, the Huskers put themselves in position to reach the postseason with success on the road. NU went 15-6 in road games during the regular season, a total that ranked third nationally. In Big 12 play, the Huskers stayed in contention for the league title, going 8-4 away from Hawks Field and winning every conference road series for the first time since 1938.

Heading into the fi nal weekend of the season, the Huskers were two games behind Baylor in the conference race. Nebraska won its fi rst two games against Kansas State, while Baylor and Missouri split their fi rst two contests, putting the Huskers in position to earn a share of the league crown. Behind Kroenke’s complete-game gem on Senior Day, Nebraska posted a 3-1 victory, while Missouri capped NU’s title hopes by beating Baylor in Waco later that day, giving the two teams a share of the Big 12 crown.

The two teams would meet one week later with the Big 12 Tournament title on the line. The game was scoreless until the sixth when Andy Gerch’s sacrifice fly plated Gordon for the game’s only run. Duensing and Jensen combined on a three-hit shutout to give NU a 1-0 win over the Bears and the Huskers’ fourth Big 12 Tourney crown since 1999.


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