Lincoln – The No. 3 national seed Nebraska Cornhuskers opened NCAA Regional competition with an 8-6 victory over the UIC Flames in front of 7,669 fans at Hawks Field on Friday afternoon.
With the victory, the Big 12 champion Huskers improved to 52-13 on the year and advanced to Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. game against the winner of Friday’s second game at the NCAA Lincoln Regional between NC State and Creighton.
The Flames fell to 38-20-1 on the season and will battle the loser of tonight’s game between the Wolfpack and Bluejays on Saturday at 1:05 p.m.
UIC, the champions of the Horizon League, pushed the Huskers to the limit in the tournament opener by scoring single runs in the first and second innings to take a 2-0 lead. Nebraska tied the score with two runs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Flames regained the lead in the top of the fourth with another single run.
Nebraska answered with two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead 4-3, before UIC fired back again with two runs in the sixth to take its final lead of the game at 5-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
But the Huskers responded with three runs in a decisive bottom of the sixth. Ryan Wehrle led off with a solid single, before being sacrificed to second by Daniel Bruce. Jeff Christy pushed Wehrle to third with a single to left, before Jesse Boyer followed with a double to the gap in left-center field to score Wehrle.
Boyer’s double put runners at second and third for Joe Simokaitis, who chased UIC starting pitcher Ryan Zink by lacing a one-out RBI single that scored both Christy and Boyer to give NU a 7-5 lead. Zink fell to 8-6 on the year after surrendering seven runs, including five earned, in 5.1 innings of work.
Brian Duensing pitched 2.1 solid innings in relief of NU starter Joba Chamberlain to improve to 8-0 on the season. Duensing surrendered just a solo home run to UIC’s Shane Crowder, who finished with four hits on the day, including a double and two singles. Crowder’s homer in the eighth ended Duensing’s streak of 17.2 consecutive scoreless innings that dated back to the Big 12 Tournament.
Nebraska closer Brett Jensen relieved Duensing entering the ninth inning and pitched a scoreless inning to pick up his school record 13th save on the year.
Christy, a junior catcher from Lincoln, played a major role in the Huskers’ fortunes on Friday. Along with hitting his first career home run to provide NU with an insurance run in the eighth inning, Christy threw out 3-of-4 would-be base stealers to lead the Husker defense. He also tied his career high with two hits, and scored three runs on the afternoon.
Ryan Bohanan and Andy Gerch each added two-hit days to help fuel and 11-hit Husker attack.
The Huskers’ timely hitting allowed NU to overcome the 14 hits put up by the Flames, including the four hits by Crowder, a 3-for-4 effort by Ted Rosinski that included a solo homer and a double, and a 3-for-5 performance by Mark Hallberg, as those three UIC hitters accounted for 10 hits.