Huskers Fall in Extra-Inning Thriller

In its final game of the longest and most successful season in program history, the No. 3 national seed Nebraska Cornhuskers' late-State pulled out an 8-7 victory in 11 innings Tuesday in a College World Series elimination game at Rosenblatt Stadium. inning rally fell just short as Arizona

With the loss, the Big 12 regular-season and tournament champion Huskers ended their season with a school-record 57 wins with just 15 losses, while ASU improved to 41-24 and advanced to Wednesday's matchup with Florida. Nebraska's appearance in the College World Series was its third since 2001, as NU went undefeated through Regional and Super Regional play before going 1-2 in Omaha. 

The Huskers, who entered the game 4-0 in elimination play this year after a five-game run through the loser's bracket on their way to the Big 12 Tournament title in late May, nearly made another improbable comeback.  Trailing 5-3 heading into the ninth inning, the Huskers rallied for four big runs in the top of the ninth, including a dramatic three-run homer run by Andy Gerch to take a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

But the Sun Devils got two runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a solo home run from Jeff Larish with two outs, his CWS record-tying third homer of the day, to tie the score at seven and send the game to extra innings. 

ASU won the game in the 11th inning as Joey Hooft singled and moved over on a sacrifice, before J.J. Sferra's blooper into shallow center field off NU reliever Tony Watson gave the Sun Devils a victory in the longest College World Series game since 1999.

Sferra's RBI single made a winner of ASU reliever Zechry Zinicola, who improved to 4-4 on the year after pitching two innings of scoreless relief as the Sun Devils' fourth pitcher on the day.  Zinicola struck out four Huskers and surrendered just one hit. Reliever Brett Jensen suffered the loss for the Huskers, falling to 3-5 on the season despite allowing just one earned run in 3.1 innings of work out of the bullpen.  Jensen allowed five hits and four runs while striking out one Sun Devil. 

Two innings earlier it looked as though Sferra would not be the hero. With Seth Dhaenens at third base and Sferra at first with no outs, Joe Persichina hit a flare into shallow center field where Daniel Bruce made a spectacular diving catch.  Bruce threw to first to double off Sferra for the second out.  Dhaenens tagged at third and scored on Persichina's sacrifice fly, after Nebraska appeal that Dhaenens left early on his tag up at third base.

ASU leadoff hitter Jeff Larish saved the day for Sferra and the Sun Devils as he came up next and took the first pitch he saw from  Jensen over the fence in center field to tie the score. The blast was Larish's 23rd of the season and third solo shot of the game, tying the CWS single-game record set in 1995 by Florida State's J.D. Drew and in 2000 by Stanford's Edmond Muth.

The Sun Devil rally came just minutes after the Huskers pulled out an amazing rally of their own.

Trailing 5-3 to open the top of the ninth, Jesse Boyer singled and moved to second on a Joe Simokaitis walk to set up All-American Alex Gordon, who smashed a line drive past a diving ASU shortstop to cut the ASU lead to just one run. With two on and only one out, freshman Andy Gerch then came to the plate and quickly went down 0-2 in the count before sending Pat Bresnehan's next pitch on a rope over the fence in left field, sending an estimated 20,000 sun-drenched fans into a frenzy with a 7-5 Husker lead.

Gerch's blast was his fourth home run of the year and the Huskers' first home run of the CWS. It was also NU's first three-run homer since March 23 against Western Illinois, a span of 38 home runs.

Nebraska threatened to add a fifth run in the ninth after Bryce Nimmo was retired for the second out, Bruce lined a double down the third base line to give Jake Opitz a chance to add to NU's lead. Opitz flied out to right field to end NU's productive ninth inning.

Arizona State held the Huskers in check early on, scoring single runs in the first and third innings on Larish home runs, before Nebraska finally got on the board with a three-run fourth inning.

Brandon Buckman led off the frame with his second hit of the contest and Gerch followed with a base hit to center field. After Bruce was hit to load the bases, ASU starter Jason Urquidez was called for a balk to plate the Huskers' first run of the game. Ryan Bohanan followed with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze to score Gerch and Nebraska scored the go-ahead run on Jeff Christy's single up the middle.

With Nebraska leading 3-2, Arizona rallied in the bottom of the frame with a pair of singles and a sacrifice to put runners at first and second with one out. But Husker starter Zach Kroenke struck out Hooft looking and got Dhaenens to ground out to short to get out of the jam.

Despite the Huskers' momentum, Kroenke was not able to get out of the fifth unscathed as ASU tied the score at 3-3 on Colin Curtis' RBI single to left center.

Persichina, who was pinch running for Andrew Romine after Romine was bloodied by a ball that ricocheted off his hands on a check swing and hit him under the right eye.  Romine had to leave the game, and Persichina moved to second when Larish walked to reach safely for the third straight at bat. After Travis Buck was called out on strikes, Curtis laced one to the gap before Kroenke got Tuffy Gosewisch to fly out to left field to end the frame.

Kroenke made it through 6.2 innings before being lifted in favor of closer Brett Jensen. Kroenke allowed six hits and four runs in his third NCAA Tournament appearance. In his first two postseason starts, Kroenke threw complete games allowing two runs each contest.