The Nebraska Cornhuskers gave us one to remember Saturday night.
Coach Revelle’s pre-game speech, maybe?
But as Sydney Gray dove headfirst into home for the winning run compliments of a grounder to second? Gun threats aside, one couldn’t be blamed if that famous line from Starships Troopers came to mind.
After losing to Wichita State Friday in their opener after a three-hour rain delay, the Huskers kicked things off Saturday by bashing out a 3-2 win over a feisty Maryland-Baltimore County team thanks to homers by Billie Andrews and Ava Bredwell. They also got 3 2⁄3 innings of relief from Courtney Wallace who would be called on against Wichita as well in the next game; part of an iron-horse 2023 season which has seen her throw 50++ more innings than any other in her Husker career.
Kaylin Kinney was supposed to fill the third pitcher spot on the Husker roster but suffered an season-ending injury to her glove hand at the end of February necessitating Wallace to pick up the workload throwing 219 innings, a number which will increase today. For comparison, no other pitcher listed in my Stillwater regional preview had thrown more than 127 entering the tournament. Is fatigue becoming an issue? It could be as evidenced by six Wallace wild pitches against Wichita on Friday night and two more against UMBC.
But her grit and composure are both still operating at 100%+.
Her line against the Shockers Saturday night wasn’t impressive on its surface. 5 innings, 8 hits and 2 walks given up which translated into 4 runs for the Shockers. What didn’t show up in the stat line, however, was how she managed to get out of innings leaving runners on base to keep the damage manageable and give Husker bats a chance.
This was most evident first in the 7th when the Shockers scored 2 and still had a runner on third, but Wallace got a grounder to 2nd to end the threat. Then came the 9th where it felt like Wichita was going to blow things wide open after a 2-run double left runners on 2nd and 3rd with only one out. However, a nasty full-count Wallace dropball got Sami Hood swinging and after a groundout to short, the Huskers were trailing by a deficit they had overcome before. This also was manageable.
Perhaps the biggest story of this game was what happened before the 7th inning and beyond when it became a Huskers Instant Classic.
While Wichita had a few hours to rest, Nebraska was playing their second consecutive game and they couldn’t be blamed for appearing to run on fumes at times. There were definitely some instances where they appeared a little flat and the Shockers appeared on the verge of blowing it open.
But it never happened.
Thanks to the “No one quits - everybody fights!” attitude - and maybe also to that small mountain of snacks the TV cameras found in the dugout? - the Huskers never let them pull away.
Down 2-0 in the 3rd, a Billie Andrews single scored Caneda to make it 2-1.
Down 3-1 in the 4th, pinch runner Dakota Carter scampered home on a grounder to make it 3-2.
Down 4-2 in the 6th, Abbie Squier drilled a shot over the fence in right to make it 4-3.
They entered the 7th trailing 6-3 with the end of their season in sight, but Wichita may have done something helped them out. Going to their third pitcher, Alison Cooper, at this point seemed like a logical move. Their top two pitchers, Lauren Howell and Alex Aguilar had both been hit pretty hard by the Huskers. Cooper had had an excellent season and would’ve given Nebraska batters a new look. However, they stuck with Howell.
The inning started innocuously enough after a 1-out double by Bredwell and a groundout left her on 3rd with two down and the 9th hitter in the order, Caitlyn Neal, coming up.
Boom. Gone. 6-5.
Instead of going to Cooper, Wichita coach Kristi Bredbenner went back to Aguilar. She intentionally walked Billie Andrews and Wallace followed up with a single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Mya Felder, as part of a 3-5 night at the plate, ripped a shot into right scoring Andrews and sending the game to extra innings.
The 8th had everyone on edge. Wichita put runners on 1st and 2nd but Wallace once again got a strikeout and groundout to end a threat. Nebraska got to Aguilar again loading the bases with two down but also failed to push any across.
Then came the bottom of the ninth with Nebraska trailing 8-6. The red-hot Felder led things off with a solo shot to cut the lead to one. Bredbenner stayed with Aguilar. With one down, Billie’s sister, Brooke Andrews, singled to left and Gray drew a walk to put Huskers on 1st and 2nd. Bredwell, on fire all day, scorched a shot to the wall in center which couldn’t be handled, scoring Brooke Andrews and setting the table at 2nd and 3rd for Gray to streak home on Caneda’s grounder and set off the celebration.
Everybody fights - no one quits, indeed.
The Huskers today continue their quest to win the regional. As a reward for yesterday’s efforts, that daunting task now consists of trying to take down the #5 Oklahoma State Cowgirls in two straight games on their home field. Definitely bring more snacks.
Last night’s victory marks the Huskers’ first trip to a regional final since 2016 which is also the last time they walked off an opponent in a regional defeating Louisville in Columbia. Wallace’s relief work earned her her 25th victory of the season, the most by a Husker since Tatum Edwards won 30 in 2013.
Action resumes today at 3PM CST. The radio call is available on the Huskers Radio Network and Huskers.com And the game will once again be streamed on ESPN+. If Nebraska wins the first, they will play again in approximately 20-30 minutes.