Deland, Fla. – Jake Opitz homered twice and drove in seven runs on the day, but the Huskers dropped a pair of games at the Stetson Invitational Sunday afternoon. The Huskers, who dipped to 5-4 on the season, saw an 8-0 lead evaporate in a 12-8 loss to Iowa before dropping a 16-6 setback to Notre Dame in the nightcap.
Head Coach Mike Anderson didn’t mince words in describing the Huskers’ performances on Sunday.
"Not many things went right for us today," Anderson said. "I was very surprised by our lack of competitiveness. That is something that has not been a trait of our teams, and we did not have it today. We allowed Iowa to scratch and claw back and we weren’t competitive against Notre Dame. There is no excuse for that, and we need to be accountable for the way we played."
Not only did the Huskers lose a pair of games, but also lost starting center fielder Bryce Nimmo to an injury in first inning of the nightcap. Nimmo collided with right fielder DJ Belfonte on Brett Lilley’s triple to right center and was motionless for several minutes as both teams’ medical staffs tried to assist the Husker outfielder. Nimmo was taken to a local hospital and was later released after being diagnosed with a concussion and a shoulder injury.
"Bryce will be out for a little while," Anderson said. "There was a collision, but we weren’t sure if the collision that caused the injury was with JD or after he hit the ground."
Nimmo’s injury was a harbinger of a long afternoon for the Huskers in the nightcap, as Notre Dame put five runs on the board in the frame and chased starter Drew Bowman. Base hits by A.J. Pollock, Ross Brezovsky and Matt Weglarz made it a 3-0 game before a passed ball and sacrifice fly gave Notre Dame a 5-0 cushion.
"We let the momentum of one game go into the next one," Anderson said.
The Huskers showed some spunk, getting one of the runs back in the bottom of the frame before using some power from Optiz and a trio of Fighting Irish errors to get back in the game. Opitz drove in NU’s first run as his grounder plated Steve Edlefsen. Two innings later, an error and an Edlefsen single put two on for Opitz, who drove David Phelps’ offering over the fence for his second homer of the afternoon to pull NU within a run. After a second Irish error and Nick Sullivan single, Andy Gerch hit a grounder that was misplayed, allowing the fourth run of the game to score.
Sullivan finished the day with three of the Huskers’ eight hits, while Optiz drove in four of NU’s six runs in a 1-for-3 afternoon. Other that that one hiccup, Phelps was solid, scattering six hits over five innings to pick up his second win in as many decisions.
Notre Dame quickly regained the lead in the fourth on Lilley’s RBI single off Charlie Shirek, who came in relief for Bowman in the first. Lilley finished the afternoon with a 4-for-5 effort while Pollock added three hits and scored three times. Shirek took the loss in relief, allowing five runs on seven hits over 4.2 innings.
Notre Dame put the game out of reach with seven runs in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run double by Ryan Connolly and a two-run single by Tony Langford, and added three runs in the seventh.
In first game of the day, the Huskers jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but could not hold off a furious Hawkeye comeback that saw Iowa score five runs in both the seventh and eighth innings.
The Huskers raced to a quick start, scoring one in the first on Ryan Wehrle’s RB I single before chasing Iowa starter Nick Erdman with four runs in the third. A Belfonte double and a walk to Nimmo gave the Huskers two on with no outs before Opitz made it a 4-0 lead with a three-run homer to greet reliever Danny Bales. The Huskers dept the pressure on, as Andrew Brown doubled and eventually scored on Bales’ second wild pitch of the innings.
The Huskers continued to add runs, adding two more in the fourth on Wehrle’s two-run single that plated Craig Corriston and Belfonte before Jeff Lanning’s first career homer gave Nebraska a seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead. Optiz and Wehrle drove in three runs apiece while Belfonte had two hits and scored three times in a losing effort.
NU starter Tony Watson took a shutout into the fifth before the Hawkeyes finally got on the board on Justin Toole’s RBI single. One inning later, the Hawkeyes (3-1) pulled to within 8-2 with a solo homer off the bat of Travis Sweet. Watson was sharp in his first appearance since the season opener, allowing just three hits and fanned five over six innings and left with the Huskers holding an 8-2 lead.
"Tony was our competitive person," Anderson said. "After Tony, I don’t think we performed well and we didn’t pitch well. We will have to get better in those areas."
From there, the bottom fell out for the Huskers, as Mike Nihsen came in and surrendered three straight one-out hits in the seventh, including an RBI single from Jason White to pull UI within 8-3. The rally continued off Mike Harmelink, as Travis Sweet drove in a pair of runs to get Iowa within 8-5. The Hawkeyes eventually loaded the bases before Steve Edlefsen issued a walk to plate the run, while a ground out plated the fifth run of the frame, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Iowa continued to rally off the Husker bullpen, scoring five runs in the eighth for the final margin. After a leadoff single, Zach Herr got Iowa to hit into a sacrifice to put the tying runner in scoring position. Erik Bird then came in, but surrendered an RBI single by Sweet to tie the score. After another single, Bird then intentionally walked the next hitter to put the double play into effect, but Dusty Napoleon cleared the bases with a double into the corner in left, giving Iowa the lead for good.
Sweet paced the Hawkeyes with a 3-for-4 effort with a homer and four RBIs, while Curry and Toole had two hits apiece.
Monday’s tournament game against Stetson can be heard for free on Huskers.com (click live radio link on the front page) while live video will be carried on HuskersNside. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. (central) with Johnny Dorn looking for his second straight victory.
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