ARK BSB Regional G3

Senior catcher Casey Opitz tags a runner out at home plate during Sunday's game against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers defeated the Razorbacks 5-3, pushing Arkansas to the brink of elimination in a winner-take-all game to be played Monday night.

The top-ranked Razorback baseball team experienced the flip side of a game involving a dominant relief pitcher Sunday night, when Nebraska’s Spencer Schwellenbach retired 14 of the 17 Arkansas hitters he faced to secure a season-saving 5-3 win for the Cornhuskers.

“It just was sloppy on our side,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had some chances to drive in some runs and we didn’t do it. Give Nebraska’s pitcher credit — they got out of some jams. They just outplayed us and they beat us.”

Nebraska opened the scoring in the first inning with a solo shot to center field off the bat of center fielder Jaxon Hallmark. The Huskers kept the pressure on senior left-handed pitcher Lael Lockhart with two quick baserunners in the second, but freshman left fielder Cayden Wallace caught Nebraska catcher Griffin Everitt in no-man’s land and gunned him out at second base to escape the jam.

Following his outfield assist, Wallace collected an RBI knock during the next half-inning to tie the game at one. Hallmark misplayed it, allowing Wallace another 90 feet with only one out. After a shallow fly out by junior designated hitter Charlie Welch, Nebraska pitcher Kyle Perry airmailed Everitt, allowing the go-ahead run to come home, and Everitt threw it by Perry to let Wallace score.

The Huskers cut into the Hogs’ 3-1 advantage with a Hallmark sacrifice fly, and had the tying run at third with one out. In his first game since May 26, when he suffered a lateral ankle sprain, junior first baseman Brady Slavens threw out Nebraska right fielder Joe Acker at home to keep the lead intact. The very next hitter, Slavens picked up another assist, catching Schwellenbach trying to advance two bases on an infield single.

Despite the baserunning errors, Nebraska did not let up, stringing three hits together in the fifth to draw even at three and chase Lockhart. Junior Ryan Costeiu allowed both runners he inherited to score on a single by Everitt, giving the Cornhuskers a 5-3 lead.

Costeiu walked the leadoff batter in the sixth, and left fielder Mojo Hagge reached on the Razorbacks’ third error of the game to create another high-leverage situation. The right-hander diffused it with three consecutive outs, giving the unproductive Arkansas bats another shot to close the gap.

Even as the solid relief pitching continued with two shutout innings from junior righty Connor Noland, the Hogs had no answers for Schwellenbach, who relieved Perry on the mound in the fifth inning. Between the fifth and eighth innings, he allowed just one hit.

“We haven’t swung the bats well really the whole weekend, except for a couple innings on Friday,” Van Horn said. “We’re facing good pitching and a team that knows how to win. We just have to be better.”

The Razorbacks’ best scoring chance since the three-run third inning came in the ninth, when junior center fielder Christian Franklin and senior third baseman Cullen Smith drew walks to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Schwellenbach recovered with a strikeout of senior catcher Casey Opitz and a popout by Battles to end the game. In 4 ⅔ innings, Schwellenbach gave up a hit, two walks and no runs on 65 pitches, earning a save and another game for Nebraska.

“We had a chance to get him on the ropes a couple of times and he didn’t let us,” Van Horn said. “Especially there in the ninth, he made some really big pitches when he needed ‘em.”

The Razorbacks and Cornhuskers will play again at 6 p.m. Monday in a winner-take-all game. The winner will advance to the super regional round against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, which defeated No. 16 Louisiana Tech twice in the Ruston Regional.

“Just come out and play how we know how to play,” Noland said of the team’s mindset facing elimination. “We’re a gritty team and I think you’ll see that tomorrow.”

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