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Huskers Got the Jump on Stanford, but Pitching Punches Cardinal’s CWS Ticket

April 15, 2020

Take Me Out to the Ballgame is a multi-part series looking back at Nebraska baseball’s rise to College World Series contenders. | Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Nebraska was one win from advancing to the College World Series for the first time after defeating Stanford 7-3 in the first game of the NCAA Super Regional at Palo Alto.

The Huskers capitalized on four Stanford errors, six walks, a wild pitch and a hit batter to hand All-America pitcher Jason Young his first loss in two seasons. They scored four runs in the eighth inning—on one hit, a two-run single by Adam Stern. R.D. Spiehs earned the victory in relief.

Nebraska didn’t celebrate much afterward, however, according to Dave Van Horn. The Huskers still needed a victory to advance to the College World Series for the first time.

And they didn’t get it, losing the second game 7-1—much to everyone’s surprise, Shane Komine, who had suffered a broken jaw in the first game of the Minneapolis Regional, convinced Van Horn he could pitch and started—and the third 5-3.

“The first day I thought everything just went our way. We got people on. We laid down some great bunts. We put pressure on them. And they made some mistakes. The game went our way,” Van Horn said. “The next two days were dictated by their pitching. Their pitching basically stuffed us.”

As a result, Nebraska headed back to Lincoln while Stanford would head to the College World Series in Omaha, where LSU would defeat the Cardinal 6-5 in the championship game.

Despite the disappointment, the 2000 Huskers had done something no other team had done in the previous 111 years Nebraska fielded a baseball team. 

It was a signature season, 51-17, including 21-9 to finish second in the Big 12. That after an 18-11 start, at which point there was a players-only meeting.

“We just went on a roll after that,” said Komine. “We believed that we weren’t going to lose. And that was our attitude for the rest of the season . . . that no-lose attitude.”

The Huskers went on a 15-game winning streak immediately after the meeting. They also had a record 13-game conference winning streak.

Komine finished 11-4 with a 2.24 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 124.2 innings, with only 31 walks. He earned All-America recognition and was named the Big 12 Player of the Year.

Transfer Thom Ott, from Nassau, Bahamas, by way of James Madison, was the closer, with 23-of-24 appearances in relief, a 2-1 record and 1.26 ERA with six saves.

Senior Trevor Bullock was 6-1 with a 2.13 ERA. Freshman Jamie Rodrigue finished 9-4 with a 2.64 ERA and a school-record-tying four shutouts, and Spiehs was 8-2 with a 3.23 ERA.

Nebraska’s 3.13-team ERA was the nation’s best.

Nine Husker hitters with at least 100 official at-bats batted over .300, led by senior catcher Justin Cowan, who hit .371 with 10 home runs and 74 runs-batted-in.

Cowan was among three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award.

Hopper was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Dan Johnson, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Both hit 21 home runs.

Hopper batted .352 with 71 RBIs. Johnson batted .369 with 53 RBIs.

Both batted over .400 in conference play.

Sophomores Adam Stern (.356) and Will Bolt (.350) also batted over .300. Senior infielder Brandt Vlieger, who batted .285 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs, started all but one game.

Senior centerfielder Jamal Strong, a transfer from Citrus College the year before, stole 35 bases to break the school record for two-seasons: 69.

Nebraska finished No. 8 in the final Baseball America poll, No. 11 according to Collegiate Baseball.

There were tears following the third game in Palo Alto “because we’re not playing for the national championship,” said Van Horn. “They’re going to have their moments, and they’re going to watch (CWS) games on TV next week. They’re going to say, ‘We should be there.’”

And so they would be.

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