After NU's victory today, there was no question as to whether NU deserved this regional or not. With Wake Forest losing their first game and Nebraska cruising through all of theirs, you may not have been able to make a clear argument as to who was better, but it was obvious who came to play. Add to that the almost dismal attendance numbers at the Winston-Salem regional, there was yet another reason for NU players and fans alike to be positive.
But a Wake Forest loss would make it all academic. If Wake Forest were to lose to Richmond, there would be no stopping Nebraska from hosting their second straight Super Regional.
Wake Forest lost the first game, sending them through the losers' bracket, but this was Wake Forest. Ranked in the top ten for a reason, everyone expected them to be back and in fashion. They made it back to face Richmond yet again, but it was do or die twice for WF and NU's hosting hopes might have depended on that as well.
With Wake Forest winning the first of the potential double-dip, I sat back and pondered the numbers. NU averaging over 6,000, while Wake Forest's first game netted barely over half of that. While NU was pushing almost 7,000 for two games, Wake Forest couldn't manage that in two of those games combined. NU had the edge, not just in record, but in loyalty.....fan loyalty.
The second game would make the difference though. A loss and the Super Regional would be NU's to host and a win, the debate would continue, the bidders would plead their case and a decision would be cautiously anticipated. For Wake Forest, it was for their post-season lives and for Nebraska, it was for a later post-season home-field advantage.
Richmond started off strong, putting four runs on the board against Wake Forest in the first. They added two more in the second to take a seemingly insurmountable 6 run margin. Insurmountable for most teams, but this was one of the best teams in the country. Wake Forest would not go quietly into the night. Wake Forest closed the margin by one in the third and again, narrowed the margin by three more in the fifth, cutting the Spiders' lead by two. That's as close as Wake Forest would ever get though as Richmond added one more in the seventh which was countered by only one from the Demon Deacons.
This is where the hate comes in.
I was elated. As any true blue Husker fan would be, I shouted, yelled and tapped about on my keyboard rejoicing on the site's local chat room with others. Exclamation points resounding, I enjoyed this loss by Wake Forest as much as anyone. Well, not anyone.
With the game done and the Super Regional seemingly "in the bank", I wanted to see how the players felt about it. So, I gave them a call.
A few rings and an answer, with Brandon Eymann saying "hello"? It was impossible for me to tell of the possible angst in his voice, but considering my ill-fated timing, it's probably a fortunate thing. It was also very fortunate that I delivered the good news (which I thought they already knew) first, so that my mistake (that I didn't know I made) was made a humorous after-thought. I said that Wake Forest had lost, basically just reiterating into my own mind that it was real and it happened but moments ago. What came as a surprise was that they didn't know Wake Forest had lost, because the live stats they were monitoring via the internet were interrupted by yours truly ringing in to see what they had thought.
I figured this one out by the almost deafening roar of glee on the other end of the receiver. A shriek of cheers and "hell yeahs", it didn't take a Sherlock Holmes bit of deduction to figure it out that they hadn't known, but I didn't realize I was the reason for that. "We were sitting on the computer, watching the live stats on the game and the phone rings", Eymann stated in the midst of cheering, laughing and trying to be coherent. My heart didn't really sink as I was as much enveloped in the moment with them from the loss by Wake Forest. Hearing them cheer, it was almost impossible to feel bad, but I did apologize for rudely interrupting what must have been some very tense moments for them as they watched numbers change on a computer screen.
In a moment like this though, even such a deed can be forgiven easily and just as soon forgot, because a victory and a loss was at hand, both favoring the Big Red. "It's all right now, just so long as we got the good news", Brandon said in response to my apology.
With the celebration subsiding somewhat and the little mistake quickly fading into the past, it was down to the actual feelings about Wake Forest losing and NU all but being guaranteed yet another Super Regional.
"It's awesome", Eymann stated. "Will and Justin played with that D'Antona kid this summer". Just a quick recap, D'Antona was the player that hit the late home run for Wake Forest, before Richmond finally closed them down. "He hit that home run and we were like "damnit D'antona".
Within the scope of the Regionals, you would think that NU players were solely squared on their games, but something else about the WF series attracted and eye from time to time. "We were keeping track of it (the attendance)", Eymann stated. "We had seen that they didn't get very many people, but we didn't want to take the chance. We just wanted Richmond to win."
Even with the loss though, the pure statistician in you would say that it's not a guarantee, that it's not a shoe-in that NU will get the Super Regional. Try telling that to the Huskers. "We know it's not official, but we pretty much know. Richmond winning was all that we could ask for."
We know though. Don't we? After what Nebraska did during this regional, we just know. As Wake Forest was struggling, coming out of the loser's bracket, NU cruised and I mean cruised to solid and convincing victories over all their foes. In their first games, Wake Forest gave up six runs and Nebraska gave up 3. In their second games, Nebraska gave up 1, while Wake Forest gave up 3..........and lost. For the trifecta, Wake Forest was battling for it's life and NU was looking to put another nail in the coffin. It seems Wake Forest did a lot less of one and helped NU to do more of the other. Even if Wake didn't lose, NU still had the better argument, but they lost, so you can understand the confidence a Husker fan must have.
Nebraska has been at times, brilliant in the latter parts of the season. From the second Creighton game to today, a hiccup here and there was all that you could see as a negative, but that overwhelmed by Nebraska finding it's groove. With Morris, Bolt and a host of others peaking when it counted most, NU came into this post-season losing only once out of the last twelve games. This post-season was just another example of where Nebraska is at right now.
In the first game of the regional, it was Brian Duensing stealing the show with 6 and 2/3 innings of shutout relief. NU bats supporting Duensing with 7 runs, Nebraska squashed an early lead by UW-Milwaukee and never looked back.
In the second game pitching yet again poured shadows over all, but in the form of a much more familiar face. Shane Komine was absolutely on fire and at times, untouchable as he befuddled, confused and overwhelmed Marist batters for the entirety of nine complete innings. At one point, Komine struck out five batters in a row, bringing in his full compliment of pitches and as you can imagine, his prowess wasn't lost on his teammates. "He was dealing", Eymann said. "He was on yesterday."
In the third and what would be the final game for Nebraska, they left an emphatic impression on the one team that was considered to be their best competition coming in. Three NU pitchers combined to allow only two earned runs and the Nebraska bats took care of the rest. RBIs were plentiful, 3 being dealt out by both Hopper and Simokaitis to lead the team, complimented by runs batted in by 5 other Husker batters bolstering NU's final tally of 14 runs to SMSs 3.
Between this tournament of sorts and the actual tournament that preceded it, NU has been playing and playing with fire. Even a loss to Texas couldn't take away from the fighting spirt of the Huskers in all phases of the game. "We are swinging the bats well, we are pitching well and we didn't play defense real well today, but that hasn't been a problem." Not a problem at all for one of the best defensive teams in the country and as Brandon Eymann stated, they aren't looking for the perfect game..........yet. "There's always room for improvement and we didn't play the perfect game yet, but we don't want to play the perfect game yet either."
Does the perfect game await? Only time will tell, but it will be Richmond that has the first opportunity to find out. Richmond was already a very good team going into their regional series, 50 wins on the year and now, with two post-season victories over Wake Forest. That should be enough by itself, but Richmond is much more than it seems. Even the Husker players are already aware of just what Richmond can do. "Richmond is real good", Eymann stated. "We have looked at their stats and they have some guys that have put up some unbelievable numbers".
Numbers that impress fellow baseball players are more than likely to really grab the attention of the average fan. Numbers like; Richmond having five starters hitting over .300, David Reaver leading the team, hitting a whopping .411 while not missing a game. Three players hitting double-digits in homers, Vito Chiaravallot leading the team in homers with 22. Richmond even sports two players with over 50 games that have fielding percentages of 1.000. It doesn't stop there.
As Brandon Eymann points out, their pitching is pretty formidable as well. "We know their number 1 and 2 are real good", Brandon said. "I think their number one guy is like 15-2, so you know he's real tough." That 15-2 guy Brandon refers to is Sophomore sensation, Tim Stauffer who's gaudy record also comes with an equally gaudy ERA of 1.57. This young man's amazing ability doesn't stop there, Stauffer tossing 12 complete games this year. That's not gaudy, that's incredible as is his 134 strikeouts. And backing Stauffer up is Mike McGirr, who's one loss in 13 decisions speaks for itself.
Impressive stats tagging along, Richmond will come o' calling. They will be coming into what is likely to be the most energetic and possibly populace crowd they have faced all year. The head coach of Marist even compared the home crowd energy to that of those in Yankee Stadium. However the description, this Super Regional will certainly be one to look back upon for fans and players alike.
For Eymann, it's fortunately just a matter of looking back a year to find his most recent memories about Super Regional glory. From Buck Beltzer, NU fought it's way to the first College World Series in school history and now looks to repeat. Is there a difference this year though? Is there a different state of mind? "It feels a little different (this year)", Eymann stated. "We were hoping more, because we didn't completely control our own destiny. We knew we had to take care of business this weekend in order to have a shot at a home regional. Things have just fell into place this year and it's different, a lot different."
A little different, but more of the same as Nebraska goes for a consecutive appearance to Omaha. One step to go, the same as a year before, but oh-so different. A different time, a different park and a different attitude. No longer happy with the fact that a crowd is just showing up, it's now "We want 8,500 fans this coming weekend, just packing the place in" as so eagerly spoken by Brandon Eymann. It's no longer an attitude of being grateful with where you are, it's being fervently dedicated on where you want to be. And as to that literally short but figuratively long trip to Omaha, now, it's not a matter of being happy just to be there, it's time to get something done.
So, in less than a minute, villain to hero and in the time after that, reporter to writer (very figuratively speaking). And throughout it all, a fan, thankful to be able to enjoy a moment of joy with those that gave it to us all. I wonder who I can call next?