Tuesday, June 21, 2005 • Attendance: 20,000 • Box score
Nebraska left Rosenblatt Stadium and boarded a bus for Lincoln Tuesday night, its players not soon to forget the pain of a walk-off loss and how they came within one ninth-inning out of a berth in college baseball's final four.
History will force them to remember.
Arizona State eliminated the Huskers from the College World Series with a dramatic 8-7 win in 11 innings. It was an instant classic, a game that ended the greatest season in school history four days after Nebraska and its legion of fans celebrated the Huskers' first CWS win.
J.J. Sferra's bloop single off Tony Watson sailed past the reach of NU second baseman Jake Opitz and into right field, scoring Joey Hooft with one out in the 11th to end it.
But the final rally was almost anticlimactic. No team in Omaha since 1999 had come from two runs down in the ninth to lead.
Before an estimated 20,000 witnesses, both teams did it Tuesday.
Second-ranked Nebraska (57-15) scored four runs in the top of the ninth to take a two-run lead, the giant blow coming on a three-run homer by Andy Gerch. ASU (41-24) then answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning off NU closer Brett Jensen. Jeff Larish's CWS record-tying third home run of the game forced extra innings.
"It felt like four or five games in one," Arizona State coach Pat Murphy said. "What can you say? Nebraska baseball is real -- the fans, the environment. It's just a tremendous testament to how they care about their sports."
The Sun Devils advanced to face Florida, needing a win today at 1 p.m. and another Thursday over the Gators to reach the championship series that starts Saturday.
For Nebraska, the offseason begins today after a 1-2 CWS stay that followed Big 12 Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
"It's going to take time," Nebraska coach Mike Anderson said. "If we come out on top, I'd probably appreciate (Tuesday) a little more. I can immediately tell you that I appreciate this team and what they've done, what they'll continue to do."
Hooft started the winning rally with a sharp single to left field off Jensen to open the bottom of the 11th. The Arizona State second baseman, a senior transfer from Miami, advanced on Seth Dhaenens' bunt and ran into the arms of his jubilant teammates after Sferra poked a 1- 0 Watson pitch to the opposite field.
The dramatics, though, began two innings earlier.
Trailing 5-3, the Huskers got an infield single from Jesse Boyer to open the ninth. Reliever Pat Bresnehan walked Joe Simokaitis on a full-count pitch, and Alex Gordon -- hitless in eight previous CWS plate appearances against the Sun Devils -- smoked a liner that bounced off the glove of Arizona State shortstop Joe Persichina into center field, scoring Boyer.
ASU forced Simokaitis at third base on Curtis Ledbetter's bunt, but Gerch came through by belting a 0-2 Bresnehan pitch two rows deep in the left-field bleachers for his fourth home run of the season.
"I was looking for a pitch to drive in the gap," said Gerch, a redshirt freshman outfielder from Lincoln Pius X. "He hung a curveball. I looked to hit it the other way, and it got up in the air.
"It seemed like it was over right then and there."
With Jensen on the mound, the 7-5 lead did appear safe until Dhaenens reached on an Opitz fielding error to start the bottom of the ninth. Sferra bunted for a hit. Nebraska center fielder Daniel Bruce then slid to catch Perischina's sinking line drive and rifled a throw to first base that doubled off Sferra for the second out.
Dhaenens scored on the sacrifice fly. But ASU, still down a run, had no runners aboard. Larish pounded the next Jensen pitch over the center-field wall for a game-tying homer, his third blast of the game and 23rd this season for the senior first baseman.
"Tip your hat to him. He hit a good pitch," Anderson said. "We had the matchup we wanted, and it didn't work out."
Reminiscent of its loss Sunday to Florida, Nebraska suffered from a defensive breakdown against the Devils.
With two ASU runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Colin Curtis hit a high pop foul to the right of first base. Ledbetter, the first baseman, settled under the ball, but he peeled off late as second baseman Ryan Wehrle approached.
It fell to the ground untouched, and Curtis stroked Jensen's next pitch into center field to score Larish. Bruce's throw to second base skipped away from Wehrle toward the pitcher's mound, allowing Travis Buck to trot home and give Arizona State a 5-3 lead.
The Huskers and Sun Devils played to a 3-3 tie through 6 1/2 innings. Larish homered to left on a full-count pitch to open the game off Zach Kroenke. The first left-handed hitter to homer off the Huskers' junior starting pitcher this season, Larish did it again to right field with two outs in the third.
"That's ridiculous," Murphy said. "That's unheard of, a home run to every field."
NU took the lead with three runs in the fourth inning. Brandon Buckman and Gerch led off with consecutive singles. Arizona State starter Jason Urquidez balked in a run. Wehrle's suicide-squeeze bunt tied the game 2-2, and Jeff Christy put NU ahead with a two-out single.
Arizona State evened the score in the fifth on a two-out single by Curtis that scored Andrew Romine, who was hit by a pitch to open the inning.
"The whole game was pretty much a roller coaster," Larish said.
Anderson agreed, but he was more reflective in defeat.
"We have a group that gave themselves up for their team," the Huskers' third-year coach said. "It's the most unique group of young men that I've been around. They bought into the team concept. I can't say enough words about these kids and how proud I am of them."