Five Husker Homers Bounce Eastern
- Top-seeded Nebraska launched five home runs to eliminate Eastern
Michigan from the NCAA Lincoln Regional with an 18-2 win in front
of 4,039 fans at Hawks Field on Saturday night.
Curtis Ledbetter started Nebraska’s home
run barrage with a third-inning grand slam, and Matt Hopper added
a pair of solo home runs in the seventh and eighth innings for his
second two-homer game against Eastern Michigan in the tournament.
With the win, the Huskers improved to
46-17 on the season and advanced to the championship game of the
regional tournament for the fourth consecutive season. Nebraska’s
win sets up a rematch with Southwest Missouri State on Sunday at
1:05 p.m. The Huskers must win that game to force a second
championship game with the Bears 50 minutes following the first
Eastern Michigan, the Mid-American Conference
Tournament champion, ends its season with a 33-28 overall mark and
a 1-2 record in the 2003 NCAA Lincoln Regional.
Along with homers from Ledbetter and
Hopper, Alex Gordon added a solo homer and Daniel Bruce contributed
a two-run shot in the seventh inning. Gordon’s home run went
back-to-back with Hopper’s first homer in the seventh, before a
walk to Ledbetter set up Bruce’s second home run of the regional.
Nebraska’s power surge was more than
enough to make a winner of Zach Kroenke, who pitched the first complete
game by a Husker freshman since Jamie Rodrigue tossed a complete
game against UW-Milwaukee in 2000. Kroenke allowed just two
runs, while scattering eight hits and matching a career high with
Ledbetter, whose 13th home
run of the year provided all the offense Kroenke would need in the
third inning, pounded his Big 12 record third grand slam of the
season on a 1-0 pitch to give NU a 4-0 lead. Joe Simokaitis
started the Husker rally by reaching on a fielding error by EMU
starter Dale Hayes. Hopper then reached on a fielding error
by the shortstop, and Gordon was hit by a pitch to load the bases
for Ledbetter. The Lawrence, Kan., native improved to 6-for-7
with three homers and 21 RBIs this season with the bases loaded.
Eastern Michigan answered with two runs
off Kroenke in third to trim the NU lead to 4-2, before the Huskers
added three runs in the fourth inning to take a 7-2 lead.
That score held until the top of the seventh when Nebraska struck
for three homers and four runs, followed by a five-run eighth inning
and two more runs in the ninth. The 18 runs scored by the
Huskers were a season high, as NU produced 34 runs on 35 hits in
two games against the Eagles during the regional.
Hayes took the loss for EMU, lasting
just 3.1 innings while allowing seven runs on five hits. Hayes
and five other Eagle pitchers combined to throw 229 pitches on the
night, walking 10 Huskers and hitting two others. Kroenke
needed 137 pitches to close the door on the Eagles, walking just
EMU batter on the night.
*Nebraska’s 18 runs were a season high,
surpassing the 16 runs scored against Eastern Michigan on Friday
and Western Illinois on April 1.
*Curtis Ledbetter’s third-inning homer
was his third grand slam of the season, tying the Big 12 single-season
record for grand slams. Ledbetter is 6-for-7 with 21 RBIs
with the bases loaded this season.
*Nebraska’s home runs by Matt Hopper
and Alex Gordon to lead off the seventh inning were the Huskers’
first back-back-to-back homers since Brandon Fusilier and John Grose
connected on back-to-back homers on March 11 against Nebraska-Kearney.
*Matt Hopper, Alex Gordon and Daniel
Bruce all homered in the seventh inning to give Nebraska its first
three-homer inning of the season. The trio homered in consecutive
at-bats, but Curtis Ledbetter drew a walk in his plate appearance
between Gordon’s and Bruce’s home runs.
*Freshman left-hander Zach Kroenke pitched
the first complete game of his career, allowing two runs on six
hits to improve to 6-2 on the season. It was the first complete
game by a Husker freshman since Jamie Rodrigue threw a complete
game against UW-Milwaukee in 2000.
*Matt Hopper’s two home run performance
marked his eighth career multi-homer game, fifth of the season and
second of the 2003 NCAA Lincoln Regional. Hopper pushed his
Big 12-leading home run total to 22 on the season and 64 in his
career. His 22 homers this season are the fourth-highest single-season
total in school history.
*Matt Hopper is 6-for-11 with 4 HR, 4
walks, 9 runs scored and 5 RBIs in three Lincoln Regional games.
*Curtis Ledbetter is 6-for-12 with 1
HR, 7 RBIs and 5 runs scored in three Lincoln Regional games.
*Jake Mullinax went 4-for-6 with 3 RBIs
to match his career high in hits and establish a career high in
RBIs. Mullinax is 7-for-9 with 5 RBIs in two NCAA Lincoln