Playing in a NCAA Regional for the first time since 2008, the Nebraska baseball team (40-20) dropped a 5-1 decision to the Cal State Fullerton Titans (33-22) on Friday afternoon at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
The game was a pitcher’s duel for most of the day, with four of the game’s six runs coming in the eighth inning. With the game tied 1-1 and the bases empty with two outs in the top of the eighth, the Titans loaded the bases and their No. 3 hitter J.D. Davis smashed a grand slam well over the left-field fence to put the Titans on top 5-1.
Both starters went 6.1 innings and put together strong outings, but neither factored into the decision. NU’s Chance Sinclair allowed just one unearned run on two hits, a walk and four strikeouts, while CSF’s Thomas Eshelman gave up one run on seven hits and a walk, while striking out five.
After being tabbed as a third-team All-American on Thursday morning, Sinclair showed why he deserved the national honor. The junior took a no hitter into the seventh, when Davis broke it up with a line-drive single to left field. Sinclair retired the first 14 batters he faced before he issued a two-out walk in the fifth. On the day, Sinclair retired the Titans in order five times.
Nebraska entered the day 31-1 on the year when outhitting their opponent, with the only loss coming in the second game of the season against Oregon State. NU’s record dropped to 31-2 after outhitting the Titans, 9-5. Eight of Nebraska’s starters notched a hit on the afternoon, including a pair of hits by freshman Ryan Bolt.
Nebraska was in position to scores the game’s first run in the bottom of the third when Austin Christensen led off with a single and Steven Reveles laid down a sacrifice bunt that put Christensen in scoring position for the top of NU’s lineup with one out. Eshelman didn’t let Christensen advance any farther though, as the sophomore righty got Boldt and Austin Darby each to pop out to end the third.
Sinclair was perfect through 4.2 innings, as he retired the first 14 Titan batters he faced. The Titans got their first base runner of the game when Tanner Pinkston worked a four-pitch walk. Sinclair went right back to work and got Austin Diemer to pop out for the final out of the CSF fifth.
Boldt nearly untied the scoreless game with one swing to lead off the bottom of the sixth, but the fly ball hit the wall in right-center field and the freshman had to settle for a leadoff triple, his fifth of the season. Two pitches later Darby delivered a RBI groundout to second base that put the Huskers ahead 1-0. With one down, Michael Pritchard and Pat Kelly notched consecutive line-drive singles, but Eshelman kept the damage to one run with a strikeout and a fly out.
The Titans evened the game, 1-1, in the top of the seventh on an unearned run. Keegan Dale led off the frame with a ground ball to Christensen at first, but Christensen bobbled the ball and Dale reached on the error that would prove costly. Davis then broke up Sinclair’s no hitter with a single to left that put Dale in scoring position. Sinclair got a pop out for the first out of the inning, but David Olemdo-Barrera came through with a RBI single up the middle that tied the game 1-1. With the go-ahead run at second base with one out, Nebraska went to senior Zach Hirsch. The lefty calmed the waters and kept the game tied 1-1, as he got pinch-hitter Greg Velazquez to bounce into a 5-3 inning-ending double play.
Nebraska was in business in the bottom of the seventh after Reveles executed a hit-and-run and put runners on the corners with one down. Boldt then worked a four-pitch walk that loaded the bases for NU’s 2-3-4 hitters. CSF reliever Koby Gauna was able to escape the jam by getting Darby to pop up and Pritchard to fly out.
The Titans then loaded the bases in the top of the eight with two outs and Nebraska’s pitching staff was unable to what CSF’s bullpen. After Hirsch gave up a full-count walk to Dale that loaded the bases, NU brought in Josh Roeder to face Davis, a right-handed batter. The CSF right fielder blew the game open for the Titans when he blasted a 1-1 offering from Roeder for a grand slam to left field.
The Huskers got one hit over their final two at-bats, and were unable to put together a late rally like they have done so many times this year.