Nebraska made its first College World Series appearance in 2001.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

2001 College World Series

By NU Athletic Communications

The 2001 season was a magical year for the Nebraska baseball program.

Followers were treated to a season unlike any other, as Nebraska won the school’s first regular-season conference title in 51 years before sending the state into a frenzy with a trip to the College World Series.

Under Coach Dave Van Horn, the Huskers finished with a 50-16 record, NU’s second straight 50-win season and became the first team in Big 12 history to win both the regular-season and conference tournament titles in the same season. For his efforts, Van Horn was named Baseball America’s National Coach of the Year, while also garnering ABCA Midwest Region and Big 12 coaching accolades.

The 2001 Huskers combined talent, hard work and a never-say-die attitude that carried them farther than any team in the school”s 112-year history.

Highlighting the season were the performances of a quartet of first-team All-Americans in Shane Komine, Dan Johnson, John Cole and Matt Hopper.

Komine anchored a Husker staff that shattered the school record for strikeouts with 503, going 14-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 18 starts. The only two-time All-American in school history, he led the Big 12 with 157 strikeouts, while topping the Big 12 in starts, wins and complete games. He went a perfect 8-0 in conference play and produced a school-record 14 straight wins.

The Honolulu, Hawaii, product led a talented Husker pitching staff that compiled a 4.42 ERA, marking the first time since 1984 that an NU pitching staff had ERAs of 4.50 or lower in consecutive seasons. During the postseason, the Husker pitchers carried the team, chopping nearly a run off their season average, to help the Huskers run off nine straight wins to reach Omaha.

While the pitching staff continued to improve during the season, NU was propelled by one of the most prolific offenses in school history. The Huskers ranked in the top 10 nationally with their .334 average and 9.20 runs per game, while leading the Big 12 in 10 categories, including hitting, runs scored, walks, homers and stolen bases. Closer Thom Ott joined Komine as a first-team All-Big 12 honoree, as five Huskers were selected for the All-Big 12 team.

Johnson led the Huskers with a school-record 25 homers and 86 RBIs, finishing second nationally in both categories, while hitting .361 to rank among the league leaders in hitting. A consensus first-team All-American and Howser Award finalist, Johnson earned Big 12 Tournament MVP honors, hitting .563 with five homers and 13 RBIs during the Huskers” four-game sweep of the conference tournament in Oklahoma City. The senior was one of eight Huskers drafted, the most of any Big 12 school, in 2001.

Cole paced the Huskers with a .418 average - the eighth-highest total in school history - with 11 homers and 61 RBIs, splitting duties between second base and left field. The Ottawa, Ontario, native hit safely in 30 of his last 31 contests and led NU with 28 stolen bases. A fifth-round draft choice of the Seattle Mariners, Cole was a first-team Verizon/CoSIDA Academic All-American - becoming only the second Husker to earn that prestigious honor.

Hopper batted .358 with 12 homers and 85 RBIs on the season, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors for the second straight season. During the final 19 games, the Morrison, Colo., native hit .400 with six homers - including a pair of grand slams - and 28 RBIs, earning Big 12 All-Tournament and all-regional honors.

The Huskers, who played just one home game in the first six weeks of the season, were ranked as high as fourth in the preseason polls, but started slowly, going 2-3 in their first five contests. After the inauspicious start, Nebraska proceeded to win its next 13 games, highlighted by wins over Wichita State, Ohio State and Louisiana-Lafayette before a three-game sweep at Texas Tech - handing the Red Raiders their first three-game sweep at home in over a decade. When the dust had settled after playing 20 of its first 21 games on the road, the Huskers finished the stretch with a 16-5 record, firmly ranked in the top 10 in the national polls.

After Missouri ruined the Husker homecoming by taking two of three from the hosts, NU came right back to sweep Oklahoma in Norman for the first time since 1962, setting the stage for the most important homestand of the season.

As April rolled around, the Huskers had a golden opportunity to seize control of the Big 12 race, hosting nationally ranked Texas and Baylor in a two-week period. Against the Longhorns, Husker fans came out in droves, setting a school attendance record in the showdown. The fans would not go home disappointed, as NU swept a doubleheader from Texas on Saturday, winning both games in the final at bat on homers from Adam Stern and Cole. The next weekend against No. 9 Baylor, the Huskers took control of the conference race, sweeping the Bears in front of 9,042 fans during the weekend series - nearly 2,000 more than the previous record set in 1999. The Huskers ended the stretch atop the standings heading into the homestretch.

After going 3-3 in their next six conference games, the Huskers swept Oklahoma State for their first sweep of the Cowboys since 1975. The Huskers needed heroics, trailing by five runs in the fifth, scoring three runs in the seventh and two more in the ninth to send the contest into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Johnson’s homer sent the fans that stayed until 12:30 a.m. home happy. Later that day, senior Brian Rodaway capped the sweep with a complete-game victory in NU’s 20-2 win.

With the magic number down to one, the Huskers showed their resiliency against Iowa State, as Komine pitched two innings before being sidelined with a hip injury. In his place, Steve Hale kept the Cyclones at bay until the Huskers mounted a comeback, scoring six runs in the seventh - highlighted by a Hopper grand slam - and five more in the ninth to pull away with a 16-8 victory.

“I coached at a lot of different levels and this tops everything I have been associated with,” Van Horn said. “For a team in this league playing in this part of the country, this is something we wanted more than anything else.”

With the regular-season crown in hand, the Huskers set out to win their third straight Big 12 Tournament title in Oklahoma City. NU received strong performances from right-hander R.D. Spiehs (2-0 with 13 strikeouts in 10.1 innings), Komine and Rodaway en route to a 4-0 performance. Johnson supplied most of the offensive pop, pounding a pair of homers against Oklahoma State in the semifinals and the title game against Texas A&M to break Ken Harvey”s school record of 23 homers set in 1999. Cole, Hopper and Komine joined Johnson on the all-tournament team.

After wrapping up their third straight conference tournament title, the NCAA rewarded Nebraska with the No. 8 overall seed in the tournament, along with the opportunity to host a regional for the first time in school history.

Playing in front of overflow crowds at “The Buck,” NU overwhelmed Northern Iowa and downed Rutgers to earn a spot in the title game against the Scarlet Knights, the No. 2 seed, for a berth in the Super Regional. The visitors were staked an 8-4 lead after six innings, but NU closed to within 10-8 entering the ninth. The Huskers loaded the bases with two outs, but catcher Jed Morris was down to his final strike against Rutgers” Ryan Molchan before Morris dropped a double down the left field line to tie the score.

“I was fighting,” Morris said. “I had two strikes and just wanted to get the bat on the ball and make something happen,” Morris said. “He threw a tough slider way outside. Luckily I was able to get the end of the bat on it, and it fell in perfect for us.”

Morris” heroics opened the floodgates, as NU scored six runs in the inning to pull out a 14-10 win. Jeff Leise, whose two-run single broke the 10-10 tie, was selected the regional’s Most Outstanding Player, batting .538 with a pair of homers and eight RBIs in three games.

The win put the Huskers into the Super Regional for the second straight season, but Rice, which handed the Huskers a 16-2 setback in the season opener and a team that was ranked No. 1 for part of the season, still stood between the Huskers and Omaha.

In the opener, Komine turned in the finest performance of his career, throwing a three-hit complete-game shutout. Not even a 51-minute rain delay could derail the Big Red, which played small ball against the Owls. NU managed just eight hits, but stole six bases and capitalized on nine walks in a 7-0 win to put the Huskers one win away for the second straight year.

The next day, a school-record crowd of 5,454 was treated to another fantastic finish. While Rice ace Kenny Baugh held Nebraska in check for eight innings, Rice scored five runs in the first three innings and entered the ninth with a 5-3 advantage. The Huskers loaded the bases, before Stern tied the score at five with a bases loaded single to left off Baugh, before Cole”s RBI single gave the hosts a 6-5 lead. The Owls tied the score with a solo homer by A.J. Porfirio, but Leise came through in the 10th, breaking the tie with a two-run single, as Nebraska scored three runs to take a 9-6 lead. Ott shut the Owls down in the bottom of the frame, as Will Bolt caught the final out, shipping Nebraska off to the College World Series for the first time.

“We just find a way to keep it close, and then it seems like in the last month when it really counts, we’ve found a way to score runs,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got a great mentality on this team. They never quit.”

In Omaha, the Huskers, playing in front of a highly charged partisan crowd, hung tough, but were unable to get clutch hits in either contest, dropping a pair of one-run decisions to top-seeded Cal State Fullerton and Tulane to end the most successful year in Husker history.

Van Horn said it was a special feeling to take the Rosenblatt stadium field in front of the largest crowd to ever see the Huskers play.

“The fans were great,” Van Horn said. “The decibel level on the field, it was amazing to be down there. It was exciting to be the team they were cheering for.

“I know the guys are highly disappointed that they didn’t stay around for three, four or five games and have a chance to play longer, but we got here and we plan on being back some day.”

Baseball America National Coach of the Year
Dave Van Horn

ABCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year
Dave Van Horn

Big 12 Coach of the Year
Dave Van Horn

NCBWA Dick Howser Trophy Finalist
Dan Johnson, 1B (one of seven)

NCBWA District VI Player of the Year
Dan Johnson, 1B (one of nine)

American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-American
John Cole, OF, First Team
Shane Komine, SP, Second Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, Second Team

National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-American
Dan Johnson, 1B, First Team

Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger All-Americans
Shane Komine, RHP, First Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, Second Team
John Cole, OF, Third Team

USA Today/Baseball Weekly All-American
Dan Johnson, 1B, First Team

The Sporting News  All-Americans
Matt Hopper, DH, First Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, First Team
John Cole, OF, Second Team
Shane Komine, RHP, Second Team

Baseball America  All-Americans
John Cole, OF, First Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, Second Team
Shane Komine, RHP, Second Team

Verizon/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans
John Cole, OF, First Team
Jeff Leise, OF, Second Team

Verizon/CoSIDA Academic All-District VII
John Cole, OF, First Team
Jeff Leise, OF, First Team

Big 12 Pitcher of the Year
Shane Komine, RHP

All-Big 12 Coaches Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, First Team
John Cole, OF, First Team
Shane Komine, SP, First Team
Matt Hopper, DH, First Team
Thom Ott, RP, First Team
Jeff Leise, OF, Second Team
Jed Morris, C, Second Team
Jeff Blevins, 3B, Honorable Mention
Adam Stern, OF, Honorable Mention

Academic All-Big 12
Shane Komine, First Team
Jeff Leise, First Team
Adam Stern, First Team
John Cole, First Team
Brandon Penas, First Team
Thom Ott, Second Team
Jamie Rodrigue, Second Team

ABCA All-Midwest Region
Dan Johnson, 1B, First Team
John Cole, OF, First Team
Shane Komine, RHP, First Team
Jeff Leise, OF, Second Team
Matt Hopper, DH, Second Team

Lincoln Regional All-Tournament Team
Jeff Leise, OF, Most Outstanding Player
John Cole, 2B
R.D. Spiehs, P
Matt Hopper, DH

Big 12 All-Tournament Team
Dan Johnson, 1B, MVP
John Cole, 2B
Shane Komine, RHP
Matt Hopper, DH

Collegiate Baseball /Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week
Dan Johnson, 1B, May 21

Big 12 Pitcher of the Week
Shane Komine, RHP, March 5
Shane Komine, RHP, April 16


More News Sponsor - First National Bank
Baseball Jun. 6
Baseball Jun. 20
Baseball Jun. 26


Tickets Sponsor - StubHub