Nebraska baseball defeats UConn 8-5 for first NCAA tournament victory in five years

Nebraska's Angelo Altavilla is greeted after hitting a home run against UConn during their NCAA Regional game on Friday in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — So many numbers pointed to another Nebraska clunker in an NCAA regional.

The Huskers struck out a season-high 16 times. They allowed 19 hits, with senior Nate Fisher enduring one of his worst starts of the season. An early three-run hole looked mountainous.

But third-seeded Nebraska found some of the magic it used to wield at Bricktown Ballpark from its Big 12 days. The Huskers shook off their chronic struggles against left-handed pitching to deliver an 8-5 victory Friday over second-seeded Connecticut that was as gritty as it was relieving.

The postseason win is NU’s first in five years, snapping a five-game regional skid. It last won a regional opener in 2008. The Huskers face either fourth-seeded Harvard or top-seeded Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

How did Nebraska (32-22) survive UConn collecting at least two hits in each of the first seven innings and six extra-base hits? Coaxing four double plays helped.

So did some long-awaited success against a southpaw. Huskies junior ace Mason Feole lasted five-plus frames and 110 pitches while giving up a season-worst seven earned runs.

The bottom of the first inning alone brought a game’s worth of drama. UConn led off with a single and dropped a sacrifice bunt to the first-base side. With second baseman Alex Henwood covering the bag, the batting helmet of the sprinting runner flew off just as Henwood was tracking the throw into his glove. The ball instead struck him in the mouth — video replay confirmed the senior lost a tooth — and forced him to leave the game.

With two on and nobody out, the Huskies hit into a double play on a popped up bunt. Then catcher Pat Winkel followed with his team-leading seventh homer of the season on a blast to right-center.

The 2-0 lead didn’t last long in a game that had just one 1-2-3 half-inning. Nebraska senior Angelo Altavilla led off the second with a shot that landed just beyond the 350 sign in left field. UConn responded with a pair of RBI singles from David Langer and John Toppa in the bottom half.

But a four-run third gave Nebraska its first lead in its last 40 innings of NCAA regional action dating back to 2014. The first six Huskers reached — five on singles — including RBI knocks from Cam Chick, Spencer Schwellenbach and Angelo Altavilla.

The teams traded runs in the fifth. NU’s Gunner Hellstrom dropped a two-out, run-scoring single to center in the top half, then Christian Fedko ripped his own RBI hit to left a few minutes later.

UConn didn’t score again, with ace reliever Robbie Palkert firing 3-1/3 innings of scoreless ball on 57 pitches. He scattered five hits and struck out four.

The Huskers, meanwhile, added a run in the sixth on a two-out Aaron Palensky RBI single to go up 7-5 and another in the ninth on a run-scoring Joe Acker double to left. Colby Gomes worked the ninth to earn the save.​

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