OKLAHOMA CITY — The hangover effect was real.
The Huskers tried to fight it. Back at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark less than 12 hours after they came within an out of beating the No. 9 national seed late Saturday, they figured the quick turnaround could work in their favor.
But on a hot and muggy Sunday afternoon, Nebraska was painfully sluggish with a bat and in the field. Combined with UConn’s relentless hitting and surprisingly dominant starter, it all snowballed into a 16-1 blowout that brought an abrupt end to a once-promising NCAA regional weekend.
“It just sucks,” NU senior third baseman Angelo Altavilla said. “You come so close, but it just doesn’t end up the way you want it.”
The Huskers had no answer for Huskies sophomore right-handed starter Colby Dunlop, who retired 10 of the first 11 batters and then 13 of his last 15 in a career-long eight frames. UConn bats, meanwhile, racked up 22 hits as the second seed led throughout. It blew things open with 11 runs in the last two frames to mark NU’s worst regional defeat since falling 15-0 to the same program in 1979.
UConn (38-24) advances to the 5 p.m. regional final against Oklahoma State. The third-seeded Huskers (32-24) bus back to Lincoln wondering how different their fate might have been had the Cowboys not cracked a go-ahead three-run homer with two outs in the ninth of the winners’ bracket game late Saturday. They end 32-24 in their fourth regional in the last six seasons.
“I thought they actually were trying to create some energy when we got here,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “But the way we are and the depth that we have, we gotta stay on schedule on the mound. We weren’t able to do that.”
While Nebraska slogged through Sunday afternoon, the Huskies showed life. They recorded exactly two hits in each of their first six innings, building a 5-1 lead to that point, and outhit the Huskers 22-5 overall. Connecticut has pounded out 58 hits in three regional games.
“That’s a tough spot to be in (for Nebraska),” UConn coach Jim Penders said. “But I also don’t want to take any credit away from (Dunlop) or our offense. I thought we were going to be beating anybody in that first game today.
NU senior starter Reece Eddins surrendered four of those runs while lasting 4⅓ innings and 65 pitches. The Huskies began with a two-out Christian Fedko RBI single in the first, then added a Kyler Fedko solo blast to left in the second. A triple and run-scoring single by No. 9 hitter Chris Winkel in the fourth and Christian Fedko RBI hit in the fifth knocked Eddins from the game.
Reliever Shay Schanaman kept Nebraska within four runs into the eighth inning before Big Red emptied its bullpen and UConn took off. Michael Woodworth finished 5 for 7 for the Huskies, including RBI knocks in the sixth, eighth and ninth. The visiting team collected four runs in the eighth and seven in the ninth.
Nebraska needed eight pitchers and 204 pitches in all compared to UConn’s 100 throws.
“They’re not going to look at that score five years, 10 years from now,” Erstad said. “It’s painful now and it got sideways.”
Dunlop, who entered with a 4.84 earned-run average, cruised on the mound across a career-high and stress-free 88 pitches. Nebraska scored its lone run in the fourth when Altavilla followed an Aaron Palensky single and Spencer Schwellenbach walk with a run-scoring hit to center. With runners at the corners and NU within 3-1, Luke Roskam grounded into a double play.
The Huskers otherwise endured six 1-2-3 frames. An Altavilla single in the second and harmless knocks from Alex Henwood and Mojo Hagge in the eighth represented the only other damage against Dunlop, whose changeup confounded batter after batter. Twenty-four times NU batters went down on four pitchers or fewer.
“I think the key was they had a lot of weak contact,” Dunlop said. “They had some hard hit, but overall it was pretty soft.”
In its fourth NCAA tournament under Erstad in his eighth year, Nebraska drops to 2-8. It snapped a five-game regional skid when it beat UConn 8-5 on Friday.
Seniors suiting up for the last time included Henwood at second base and Altavilla at third. NU also graduates its entire weekend rotation of Matt Waldron, Nate Fisher and Eddins along with relievers Mike Waldron, Ethan Frazier, Nolan Hakel and Byron Hood.
Erstad credited the senior class for willing the program to a third regional under its watch. After missing the Big Ten tournament last year and drawing predictions to finish sixth in the league this season, the Huskers reached the B1G tourney final and were very nearly in the driver’s seat for their first super-regional berth in 14 years.
“I’ve loved a lot of teams we’ve had here,” Erstad said. “I’ve loved this team the most as far as the single fight that they have. … You look at our numbers, we have no business being here where we’re at. That’s just a credit to them and them fighting.”