Lincoln, Neb. - The NCAA Lincoln Regional opened with an offensive flurry on Friday at Hawks Field, as Eastern Illinois and Nebraska combined for 23 runs and seven home runs, as the host Huskers advanced in the winner’s bracket with a 13-10 victory in front of 6,367 fans.
Nebraska scored in seven of its eight innings at the plate, pounding 16 hits, including a season-high four home runs. Husker Coach Mike Anderson acknowledged that it was a rare day at Hawks Field, with the ball carrying to all parts of the park.
“I've never seen the park play like this in the whole time I've been here,” Anderson said. “Some of our home runs, I was amazed that they were home runs because of how they were hit. I would say the same thing for them. I've never seen this ballpark play like this. It added a lot of challenges to us today. I'm proud of the kids.
“We had a lead. We lost that lead. We got down, but once we got down, we learned how to fight back again. At this point, I'm not overly concerned about how we do it, just that we get it done."
Senior Jake Opitz led the way with a career-high two homers while driving in three runs for Huskers. Tyler Farst and Craig Corriston also homered for NU, which battled back from a 5-3 deficit heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Even with the power display, it was a balanced effort for Nebraska, as every player with an at bat recorded at least one hit, while eight of the nine starters scored a run.
With the win, top-seeded Nebraska (41-14-1) advanced to Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. semifinal against the winner of Friday night’s contest between No. 2 seed UC Irvine and third-seeded Oral Roberts. Eastern Illinois (27-29) falls into Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. elimination game.
Brett Nommensen paced a strong offensive attack for Eastern Illinois with a 3-for-5 effort that included a double and four RBIs. Overall, the Panthers pounded out 13 hits on the day, including three home runs of their own.
Thad Weber (9-4) earned the victory for Nebraska by allowing two runs in 3.1 innings of relief. Reliever Brian Morrell (5-2) took the loss for Eastern Illinois, as he was charged with six runs in two innings.
After NU starter Dan Jennings retired the side on just eight pitches in the top of the first, Nebraska struck quickly in the bottom of the frame. Bryce Nimmo led off the inning with an infield single and stole second before Opitz gave NU a 2-0 advantage by drilling a towering two-run home run to right field with one out in the inning.
"I didn't think (my first home run) was out,” Opitz said. “Like he (Coach Anderson) said, this field has never played like this in my four years here. If you got that ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out of here."
Zach Skidmore pulled the Panthers even in the top of the third when he ripped a two-out, 3-2 pitch to right center for a game-tying two-run homer.
In the bottom of the frame, the Huskers loaded the bases with only one out before DJ Belfonte’s sacrifice fly plated Mitch Abeita to give NU a 3-2 lead.
Eastern Illinois once again used a big blast to tie the score in the top of the fourth, as Jordan Kreke lined a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left center for a leadoff home run. Nommensen then gave the Panthers the lead with a clutch two-out, two-run double that put Eastern Illinois in front 5-3.
Nebraska answered in the bottom of the fourth, as Abeita ripped a 1-2 pitch over the second baseman’s head for a game-tying, two-run single. The home run barrage continued two batters later, as Tyler Farst drilled his second career homer and first at Hawks Field with a two-run shot to center that gave the Huskers a 7-5 lead.
Jake Mort pushed the Huskers’ lead to 8-5 with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth. Abeita then added his third RBI of the game with a two-out, two-strike RBI single that gave NU a four-run cushion.
Eastern Illinois continued to fight back with two runs in the sixth to cut the lead to 9-7, as Nommensen came through again by bouncing a two-run single through the right side.
Nebraska got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Belfonte reached on a one-out triple and scored one batter later on Corriston’s RBI single. Opitz’s second home run of the game, a solo blast with one out in the seventh, pushed Nebraska’s edge to 11-7. Opitz also pulled even with Abeita for his 10th homer of the year, before Corriston wrapped up NU’s scoring with his fifth homer of the year, a two-run blast in the eighth to give the Huskers a 13-7 lead. Eastern Illinois continued to battle, as Alex Gee capped a solid finish for Eastern Illinois when he launched a two-out, three-run homer in the top of the ninth.