With two out in the top of the sixth inning and a 3-2 count, Luke Roskam singled to drive in Joe Acker, who had led off the inning with a single, cutting the Arkansas lead to 3-1.
Roskam’s hit had come against the National Pitcher of the Year, reliever Kevin Kopps.
At that point, Nebraska was “right there in the fight,” Will Bolt said during a post-game Zoom conference.
Then came the bottom of the sixth. The overall top-seed Razorbacks added two runs, without a hit. The runs came on four consecutive walks, a wild pitch and an error.
Arkansas “just took the momentum right back,” said Roskam.
And for all intents and purposes, that was that—5-1 was the final score Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, before a sellout crowd of 11,084.
As a result, second-seed Nebraska must now play fourth-seed NJIT—a 3-2 winner against Northeastern—in an elimination game, slated for 2 p.m. Sunday.
The winner will play Arkansas at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The Huskers almost certainly will be without Big Ten Freshman of the Year Max Anderson, the third baseman left Saturday’s game in the fourth inning with what appeared to be a hamstring issue suffered running to first base.
His availability “doesn’t look promising,” Bolt said, “doesn’t look too good.”
The control of Nebraska’s pitchers didn’t look too good Saturday night, either. And that’s being kind. They walked 10, total, and hit a batter, in addition to the sixth-inning wild pitch.
The Huskers also committed an uncharacteristic two errors.
But “I know for sure the difference in the game was the 10 walks,” said Bolt.
Arkansas had five hits, a solo home run by Matt Goodheart to lead off the game, three singles and a two-out, bases-empty double in the bottom of the eighth.
The Razorbacks’ other two runs came in the second inning on two walks and two singles. Without the walks, Arkansas probably wouldn’t have scored either run.
That’s speculation, of course, but reasonable speculation.
The Huskers also had five hits—four singles and a Cam Chick double to lead off the seventh. He got to third with two outs, but Kopps struck out pinch hitter Leighton Banjoff to end the inning.
Chick also singled in the second. Jaxon Hallmark had Nebraska’s other hit, with one out in the eighth.
Kopps, who earned Friday’s victory against NJIT in relief, worked four innings on Saturday, allowing three hits and striking out six—he threw 71 pitches—to earn his 11th save.
Kopps didn’t walk anyone. Starter Patrick Wicklander walked only two and struck out seven.
You can do the math: 13 strikeouts and two walks for Arkansas pitchers.
Bolt said he hasn’t decided on how his pitching will set up for the NJIT game, which Nebraska can’t look beyond, of course. “We’ve just gotta bounce back tomorrow,” Roskam said.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to focus on the first game.”
Failure to do that could mean the Huskers’ season would be at an end.