Fayetteville, Ark. – No. 19 Nebraska pushed top-ranked Arkansas to the brink, but the Razorbacks used a two-out, eighth-inning rally to break open a 2-2 deadlock and punched their ticket to the Super Regional with a 6-2 victory Monday evening at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Nebraska, which reached the regional final round for the first time since 2007, jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Arkansas closer Kevin Kopps slammed the door with seven shutout innings of relief to improve to 12-0 on the season.
With the loss, the Huskers end their season with a 34-14 record after nearly becoming the fourth team since 1999 to knock off the No. 1 national seed in regional play. Arkansas improved to 49-11 and will host NC State in a Super Regional this weekend.
Kopps, who went 2-0 with a save in the regional, fanned eight over a career-high 7.0 innings of work, kept the hosts in the game until Arkansas rallied in the later innings. Kopps, who entered the game in a two-on, no-out situation in the third, allowed one inherited runner to score before getting stronger as the game progressed, retiring 13 of the final 14 Huskers he faced.
Arkansas finally broke through in the eighth with two outs against the Husker bullpen. Three straight walks by Koty Frank (3-1) loaded the bases before Jake Bunz uncorked a wild pitch to allow Christian Franklin to score the go-ahead run. Pinch hitter Charlie Welch then gave Arkansas breathing room with a three-run homer to make it 6-2.
Early on, it looked to be the Huskers’ night, as the Huskers pushed across runs in the second and the third and got a strong bounce back performance from Cade Povich, who took a shutout into the fifth. The left-hander, who threw 64 pitches over a 3.1-inning start against Northeastern on Friday, allowed one run on three hits over 4.1 innings. The first-team All-Big Ten pitcher struck out six and walked two over a 65-pitch effort.
The Huskers touched up Arkansas starter Jaxon Wiggins, who lasted just 2.0 innings. Roskam led off the second with a monster home run to right field that gave NU a 1-0 lead, as the senior sent a 3-1 offering over the wall in right.
Wiggins opened the third by walking Mogo Hagge and Logan Foster, Nebraska’s No. 8 and 9 hitters before the Razorbacks called on Kopps. Joe Acker’s sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position before Hallmark’s groundout plated Hagge to give NU a 2-0 lead. NU had a chance to do further damage, as Spencer Schwellenbach put a good swing on a 1-2 pitch, but was robbed of extra bases on a diving catch from centerfielder Christian Franklin.
Arkansas broke up the shutout in the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff homer from Casey Optiz for his second round tripper of the year. Arkansas threatened with a one-out double to Janel Battles a walk to Zack Gregory to chase Povich, but Cam Wynne retired the next two hitters to escape unscathed.
The Razorbacks used the long ball to tie the score in the sixth, as Robert Moore’s two-out homer, his 14th of the season, tied the score at two.
Kopps retired his seventh straight Husker in the top of the seventh and the Huskers brought in freshman Emmett Olson in the bottom of the inning. The lefty got a leadoff pop out and then gave up an infield single to Battles. With the go-ahead run on base, the Huskers brought in Frank, who got a pair of flyouts to keep the game tied after seven frames.