Against the collegiate player of the year, Kahlil Greene, there was an obvious anticipation. As if it wasn't enough that this was the CWS, NU was facing one of the best offensive teams out there and certainly one of the most talented 1-2-3 batters you will see in a long time. But, it wasn't their bats that concerned us as much as our bats keeping pace and of course, Shane being able to keep them off-balance just long enough for the batters to get into the game.
Shane did just that, though his pitching was not what we have come to expect. Behind in the counts early, hindsight would say that it was a clear indicator that Shane just wasn't Shane. Given that, he blanked the Tigers in the first two innings, while the NU bats started what would be a barrage of hits off of various Clemson pitchers. This whole day would end up being a pitcher's folly and a batter's haven.
As Nebraska scored 1,2,1 and 3 runs respectively in the 1st thru fourth innings, the offense was in effect. With a combination of small ball by most of the batters and one very long ball by Morris, the Nebraska bats knocked out Clemson's ace, Steve Reba in less than two innings, their pitcher in relief of Reba, Thomas Boozer out in again, less than two innings and it was all working to the count of a 7-2 lead. For NU fans, this was what they had hoped, this is what we thought was the plan and we were riding high. Then..............the wheels fell off.
With their own version of small-ball working well, the Tigers tacked one on in the 5th, but for them, the fun was just getting started. They added 7 more runs in the next two innings, the biggest and possibly the one that started the landslide was the 3-rum homer Komine gave up to not the player of the year, Kahlil Greene, but his power-hitting counterpart, Zane Green who proved to be just as big of an impact player as the more heralded 2 batter. As Shane saw it leave, cursed as silently as he could under his breathe, this turned out to be just the beginning of a back and forth batting duel.
Following that fateful inning, Nebraska was able to put up one more on a Jed Morris single, but stranding batters has been a sore spot for NU and it was no different today, nobody else making it home in what appeared to be a big inning, Nebraska totaling a dozen men left on base for the game.
Jed's RBI made it 8-6 in favor of Nebraska heading into the bottom of the seventh, so it was up to an already wearying bullpen to try and stop the leak. Well, what was a leak ended up being a gusher as a Slevin RBI single followed by a Kahlil Greene 3 RBI homer put the kibosh on Steve Hale and their effort in keeping "murderer's row" off the pads. Ironically enough though, there was almost as equal an impact being made by the 6 thru 9 hitters as they were walked a total of 9 times, allowing singles to be game-tying hits. NU pitchers just couldn't find the strike zone all day consistently enough to worry CU bats.
As they had all game, Nebraska's bats would prove that Clemson wasn't the only team that could hit and it wasn't just NU's pitching staff having problems. CU tossed in a few of their own sacrificial lambs as the Tigers went through 6 pitchers, only one lasting more than 3 innings. 3 and 1/3 to be exact. With no outs, Jeff Blevins doubled, followed by a Seely walk which was soon followed by Will Bolt hitting a beauty to right center that turned the three-bagger, scoring both Jeff and Justin. That put the game at 10s on the board, the partisan crowd going frantic over what had been a classic of a game. There was no doubt that any CWS fan in attendance or even not was getting baseball at it's best and yes, at it's worst as well.
So, it went to the 9th, all tied up and a crowd refusing to find their seats. As NU came up to the plate, it was again time to watch the offense take over and give the pitching some room. Clemson didn't pitch very many good innings tonight, but fate and Matt Henrie was on their side as the Huskers went up three and down three, taking the game into the bottom. People were crossing their fingers and wishing upon any star they could see that NU pitching could do the same. As it had struggled most of the night, it was now it needed to answer, so that NU could go to extra innings with another chance at redemption.
Phil Shirek started the inning off with a walk and was subsequently replaced by Jeremy Becker. With a runner on first, small ball was back in the house, Zane Green with the SAC bunt, moving the runner over to second. It was then Jeremy's turn to sit as Jeff Blaesing came in, this Nebraska's 7th pitcher. It didn't take long though before Blaesing got the feel of what NU pitchers had been battling all day, only this one was the dagger as the first batter he faced, Jeff Baker singled to center, driving in the game-winning run.
It was over. Nebraska again on the wrong end of a one-run game in the CWS. This couldn't have been disappointing, it had to have been a heartbreaker as the NU bats were fighting all game long.
They fought back and they fought back again as they had done most of the year, but on this day, during this game, it was Clemson that ended up on their feet.
It wasn't a game of comical errors, but frustrating play and that's on both sides of the diamond. NU walked 9, Clemson walked 12. NU left a dozen on base, but so did the Clemson Tigers. In fact, if you go down the stats in both hitting and pitching, you might be surprised at the final score. NU struck out less and even got more hits, but as NU has come too familiar to reading, this was just a one-run game. One run making the difference, one run turning joy to tears and one run marking a consecutive streak of those types of losses that spans their entire CWS history.
Now, how does NU react? Do they come back fighting or was this one-run defeat enough to put them down?
Well, as Brandon Eymann once told me, he never worries about NU fighting back, because they always do, it's just in the end, was it enough.
Tonight, it wasn't.
As for Sunday? Another opponent (South Carolina) with another suspect pitching staff, so we might be doing this all over again. All over again? I can't take this much Deja Vu. Next game, I am bringing some Tums.