With two out and John Grose on base in the bottom of the ninth, Brandon Eymann sent a ball deep to right field. But it wasn’t quite deep enough.
Had the ball cleared the fence, for the Huskers’ fourth home run of the game, the score would have been tied at 10. Instead, the out was the last of Dave Van Horn’s time at Nebraska.
The Huskers had taken a 4-0 lead after three innings of that game, their second at the 2002 College World Series. They had lost the opener against Clemson 11-10, the Tigers scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth. Nebraska had scrapped, as it did in the 10-8 loss against South Carolina.
That was characteristic of Van Horn-coached teams. They competed.
But the Husker pitching struggled. Big time.
Shane Komine, the staff ace, started the Clemson game, working 6.1 innings, allowing six earned runs, striking out eight and walking seven. He had walked only 23 in 90.1 innings all season.
He was followed by six more pitchers, five of whom also would work the South Carolina game in relief of starter Brian Duensing, who allowed four earned runs in three innings.
In the South Carolina game, the staff walked six and gave up 15 hits—to Nebraska’s 12, including home runs by Jeff Blevins, Daniel Bruce and Jed Morris, who also hit a home run against Clemson.
Morris finished the season with 23 home runs, 90 runs-batted-in and a .382 average.
“I just feel like this team was a big-time, over-achieving crew,” Van Horn said. “If you’re carrying a stopwatch or a radar gun, you’re thinking these guys are pretty average.
“But we found ways to win.”
Obviously, “average” had been redefined at Nebraska during Van Horn’s five seasons. The Huskers took a 47-19 record to Omaha. Though they hadn’t won a fourth-consecutive Big 12 Tournament, they had won three games at Arlington, Texas, before falling to Texas 9-6 in 10 innings.
That loss snapped an 11-game winning streak.
Nebraska swept through the NCAA regional in Lincoln and played host to an NCAA super-regional again, winning the first game against Richmond (2-0), losing the second (6-2) and then winning the third (11-6) to earn a second-consecutive trip to Omaha—the only trips in school history.
Komine pitched the first-game shutout, and earned the third-game victory in relief.
Morris and Jeff Leise, who batted .371 with 12 home runs and 51 runs-batted-in, earned first-team All-America and All-Big 12 recognition. Komine, who was 10-0 with a 2.33 earned-run average, three complete games and two shutouts, earned second-team All-America recognition. He had been a first-team All-American the two previous seasons, the Huskers’ first two-timer.
Seven regulars batted .300 or better, including senior second baseman Will Bolt (.319), and 12 pitchers made 10 or more appearances. Two of those, Duensing and Phil Shirek, earned Freshman All-America honors, as did Bruce in the outfield.
With the conversation about Van Horn’s fifth season including “average,” the future was bright. Van Horn also mentioned the possibility of Nebraska’s playing for a national championship “five or 10 years down the road.” And when that happened, said Van Horn, those on the 2002 team could “pat themselves on the back when it happens because they’re the ones that got it started.”
Except that he wouldn’t be there to coach it. Five days before the South Carolina game, Arkansas Coach Norm DeBriyn announced his retirement after 33 years. And Van Horn, who had played and coached for DeBriyn, was rumored to be his successor.
“I’m the Nebraska baseball coach now, and that’s what I’m going to be until I’m not, I guess,” Van Horn said following the South Carolina loss.
The next day, he indicated he had been contacted by Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles and would be traveling to Fayetteville “in the next day or so” to interview.
By week’s end, he had accepted the job—a press conference was held on Friday in Fayetteville—and Mike Anderson, who had been on Nebraska’s staff for eight years, was named his successor.
As mentioned earlier, Eymann’s drive to right was the last out of Van Horn’s tenure.
His record was 214-92, his .699 winning percentage the best in school history.
With those two trips to the College World Series . . .
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.