Jun 02, 2024

Husker homer keeps post-season hopes alive

Posted Jun 02, 2024 2:08 PM

Stillwater, Ok - Gabe Swansen homered twice for the Huskers, as they kept their season alive with a 7-5 victory over Niagara on Saturday afternoon at O’ Brate Stadium.

Huskers move on to play Florida in elimination game at 1pm CT/Noon MT in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Sunday. Photo Credit-Nebraska Athletics
Huskers move on to play Florida in elimination game at 1pm CT/Noon MT in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Sunday. Photo Credit-Nebraska Athletics

Nebraska (40-21) totaled seven runs on eight hits with two errors, while Niagara (38-17) scored five runs on seven hits and an error.

The Huskers reached the 40-win mark for the first time since 2014 and the 19th time in program history.

Swansen finished 2-for-5 with a pair of home runs and now has an extra-base hit in seven of Nebraska’s eight postseason games. It marked NU’s first multi-homer game in a regional since Jake Opitz against Eastern Illinois in the 2008 Lincoln Regional. 

Case Sanderson drove in a team-high four runs for the Huskers including a three-run homer in the third inning. Joshua Overbeek reached twice in the leadoff spot, while Tyler Stone and Rhett Stokes each added doubles. Dylan Carey also recorded two knocks and was hit by a pitch. 

Mason McConnaughey improved to 9-3 this season with six innings of work for Nebraska, allowing five earned runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts and only one walk.

It marked his second straight double-digit strikeout performance and his 10 punchouts were the most by an NU pitcher in a regional since Matt Waldron (11) in the 2019 Stillwater Regional. Over his last four starts, McConaughey has punched out 36 batters while issuing just eight walks.

Additionally, Sears (101) and McConnaughey (91) became the first Husker pitching duo since at least 1985 to record 90-plus strikeouts in a single season. They are also the first NU duo with nine-or-more wins in a season since Tony Watson (10) and Johnny Dorn (9) in 2006.

Jalen Worthley entered in the seventh frame and retired nine of 11 batters faced across the final three innings to give the southpaw his team-high fifth save of the season.

Niagara jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after a hit batter, single and three-run home run from Eric Rataczak put the Purple Eagles in front. They added another run in the second inning after a double and a pair of flyouts put the Huskers in a four-run hole.

After going quietly in the first two frames, Carey began the third with a single up the middle and advanced to second on Riley Silva’s 17th sacrifice bunt of the season. Overbeek walked on four pitches to give the Huskers their runners on first and second with one out. 

Sanderson then sent an 0-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers to trim the Niagara lead to 4-3. The ball traveled 379 feet and marked the freshman’s third long ball of the season for the Big Red.

Nebraska threatened again in the fourth inning, as Stokes doubled after a 105-mph line drive ricocheted off the pitcher and into the outfield. He stole third base but was cut down at the plate on a slow roller to the third baseman to keep the deficit at one.

On the mound, McConnaughey held steady as he struck out five of six batters faced across the third and fourth innings to give him eight punchouts on the afternoon.

The Huskers captured their first lead of the afternoon in the fifth inning, as Overbeek tripled to lead off the inning and was driven in on Sanderson’s RBI sacrifice fly. Swansen put NU in front with a 382-foot blast to left field for his second homer in as many days.

Niagara responded with a solo home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the fifth to knot the game at five. 

Stone began the sixth frame with a double, before an errant throw by Niagara’s pitcher on Stokes’ bunt attempt gave the Huskers a 6-5 advantage. The Huskers managed to load the bases on a hit batter and intentional walk, but a strikeout ended the inning with NU ahead by just one.

McConnaughey recorded his 10th strikeout after a two-out single to end the sixth, before Swansen homered for the second time to left-center field in the seventh to put Nebraska in front 7-5. Worthley entered in the bottom of the seventh and retired the side in order on just eight pitches.

Nebraska threatened once again in the eighth, as Carey led off with a single and moved to second on Silva’s 18th sacrifice bunt, the most in Division I. However, a strikeout and flyout kept the Huskers off the board to end the inning.

Worthley worked around a double in the eighth frame and single in the ninth inning to ward off a Purple Eagles’ comeback and clinch a 7-5 victory.

Nebraska will take on the loser of Oklahoma State/Florida tomorrow at 1 p.m. in an elimination game at O’ Brate Stadium. Sunday’s action can be seen on ESPN+, while fans can listen to Ben McLaughlin and Dave Gustafson call the action on the Huskers Radio Network via KCOW-AM 1400/92.5 FM in Alliance or Huskers.com online.