It's with mixed emotions that I'm posting my last blog from the Tempe Regional. I've had fun at the games, met some cool people and enjoyed the local scene, but with all things considered, I'm still glad that I don't have to climb the ladder to the roof of the Brock Ballpark pressbox to sit in the heat again on Monday. Thanks Arizona State for not letting this go to another day.
With that said, the Sun Devils put on a pretty good show this weekend. On paper, they were the class of the region and on the diamond, they were the class of the region. They won the first two games behind solid pitching and really showed why they may be the most feared offensive team in the country with the 19-run championship round showing.
In the end, the ASU bats were too strong and the Nebraska pitching staff was worn too thin as the top-seeded Sun Devils emphatically advanced to next week's Super Regionals with a 19-7 win over no. 3-seed Nebraska.
I'm gone to report from the press conference and will check back in one last time from Tempe.
Now that'll kill a rally. Just when Nebraska charged its way back in to this ball game, the Arizona State bats slammed the door shut. Petey Paramore and Matt Spencer got hits to start the eighth before Zach Herr hit Andrew Romine to load the bases and put an end to his day.
Matt Foust, a starter, came in to face C.J. Retherford, who didn't waste any time. He crushed Foust's first pitch over the left field wall for a 'don't mess with us in our own house, it's time for you to go home' grand slam.
Needless to say, the home ASU crowd and Sun Devil Fan No. 1 were stoked.
And it didn't stop there. The Devils got three more hits, two more runs and went through two more Nebraska pitchers before the bleeding stopped to the tune of a 15-7 ASU lead.
Now I have been more than impressed with Nebraska's hustle and resilience to make the championship round after struggling to start Regional play here in Tempe. They've done a great job and deserve to be commended for it.
But this game and this Regional are over. ASU is too good of a team and has too big of a lead too late in the game on its home field to even think of not winning.
Don't count the Huskers out just yet. They've scored four unanswered runs, put an end to Josh Satow's night and turned a 9-3 deficit into a 9-7 game.
They picked up one run in the sixth, but the real damage was done in the seventh. DJ Belfonte walked and Craig Corriston lined a triple down the third base line to cut the lead to 9-5. When Andrew Brown singled to score Corriston, the Sun Devils put in Matt Spencer to pitch for Satow.
That prompted the most questionable decision of the evening. Whoever's controlling the sound here at Brock Ballpark started playing the theme from Smokey and the Bandit with the lyrics "We've got a long way to and a short time to get there."
As my friend John -- a TV guy from Lincoln -- pointed out, that's a great rallying cry for a team trailing 9-6 in the seventh inning. It seemed to help the Huskers, who picked up another run when Spencer couldn't get an out. In fact, all he could manage was a wild pitch and an error.
Enter closer Jason Jarvis with two on and no outs. He finally stopped the bleeding. The Huskers picked up another run on a ground ball out, but Jarvis put a quick end to a dicey situation.
As for Sun Devil Fan No. 1, he missed recording most of the Nebraska rally. He did muster the energy to sing during the seventh inning stretch and was certainly root root rooting for the Devils.
The Sun Devils picked up some momentum and Nebraska gave them a helping hand as ASU extended its lead to 9-3 in the fifth. CJ Retherford got things started with a single with two men on to score Petey Paramore from third.
Then Nebraska catcher Jeff Lanning overthrew third base trying to make a play for the second error of the inning. Matt Spencer scored on the errant throw and Retherford scored when Tim Smith grounded out to the pitcher.
As for Sun Devil Fan No. 1, he's now texting his boy in the stands, who in return keeps looking up to the press box with long distance fist pounds to celebrate the ASU success. Nice.
For the first time tonight, we've rolled through an inning with no action. Six batters stood up and six batters sat down as ASU maintains a 6-3 lead through four.
Since I've got some time, I can give you an update of Sun Devil Fan No. 1 sitting next to me in the press box. After cheering ASU on throughout the game, he's now calling his mom with updates. Through my process of astute deduction, I've come to the conclusion that he is not a neutral reporter.
Now I'm left to ponder -- who is the biggest fan -- Johnny Huskerfan or Sun Devil Fan No. 1? Johnny Huskerfan got a sunburn to show his school colors and made more noise than all of Riverside's fans put together this afternoon, but Sun Devil Fan No. 1 snuck his way into the press box to make a home movie of the game. I don't know -- it's a tough call.
Nebraska picked up another run in the third and for the first time tonight, kept ASU from scoring. Jake Opitz and Andy Gerch led off with singles and Bryce Nimmo sent Opitz home with a sacrifice fly to cut the Sun Devils lead to 6-3.
Meanwhile, Dan Jennings settled down and kept the Sun Devils to four batters and no runs in the bottom of the third.
This is the performance I expected tonight. Kiel Roling and Ike Davis knocked in a couple more runs for ASU and the Sun Devils have a 6-2 lead through two. Nebraska needs to respond or this one could get out of hand.
Part of the one here in Tempe is sitting next to me in the press box. I'm not sure what his official capacity is, but some dude has a camcorder and a lot of love for the big ASU first inning and promptly gave the shocker/pitchfork hand signal (scroll down to Saturday night's blog for an explanation) with the rest of the Sun Devil faithful. Good times.
When we last left mighty Arizona State and the scrappy, resilient Nebraska Cornhuskers, I left a question for the Sun Devils and our faithful readers at home to ponder. After watching Nebraska open strong with a two-run first inning, would the potent Arizona State bats be able to respond?
The answer is -- yes. Very much so. We're through one inning of play and Nebraska has already gone to its bullpen. Like Nebraska, ASU got five hits in its first turn at bat. Unlike, Nebraska, not all of the Devils' hits were singles. Nebraska starter Thad Weber got leadoff hitter Tim Smith out, but that was it. Brett Wallace walked and Eric Sogard singled before Kiel Roling promptly gave ASU a 3-2 lead with a shot that just cleared the right field wall.
Ike Davis, Petey Paramore and Matt Spencer all logged hits as well to add another run and put a quick end to Weber's day. Dan Jennings came in to stop the bleeding, but ASU already had a 4-2 lead and the backing of a rowdy crowd.
Nebraska clearly has no intentions of going back to Lincoln on Monday. The Huskers came out swinging in the first, running up five base knocks and two runs on Josh Satow's tab. Satow threw a lot of pitches to get out of the inning, and unless he settles down soon, his night isn't going to last long.
Craig Corriston, Andrew Brown, Jake Opitz, Jeff Tezak and Bryce Nimmo all logged hits, with Tezak and Nimmo picking up the RBI for the 2-0 lead. Now we see if the vaunted ASU bats can respond.
The sun is setting in Tempe on what promises to be an electric night at Brock Ballpark.
Nebraska, on the heels of a complete game effort from Johnny Dorn in an 11-1 trouncing of Riverside, faces powerhouse Arizona State with a berth in the NCAA Super Regionals on the line.
The Sun Devils, known for their big bats that produce almost nine runs a game, have been winning with similar pitching efforts all weekend and start ace Josh Satow (11-3 2.72 ERA) tonight.
I'm honestly surprised to see Nebraska here after a pair of listless efforts on Friday and Saturday. Riverside clobbered the Huskers, 10-5 on Friday and Nebraska needed a five-run seventh inning to slip past Monmouth to stay alive on Saturday.
But a completely different Nebraska team showed up against Riverside this afternoon. They dominated what appeared to be a superior UC Riverside team in every aspect of play.
Dorn was locked in, striking out 12 while giving up five hits, six walks and just one run in nine innings. They'll need a similar effort tonight to get past the Sun Devils and their rowdy home crowd. They'll also need some help from their small but vocal contingent of fans in enemy territory.
With a win, ASU advances. If Nebraska wins, we play one more for all the marbles on Monday.
The Huskers picked up two very unnecessary insurance runs in the eighth and put a quick end to Riverside in the ninth to move on to tonight's regional championship round with Arizona State. With the Sun Devils starting ace Josh Satow and likely playing in front of a raucous home crowd, I would be shocked if ASU does not put an end to this regional tonight. To advance, Nebraska needs to win two in a row against the Sun Devils. ASU needs just one win playing from the winners' bracket.
Time is running out for Riverside. Nebraska picked up another pair of runs in the seventh inning to increase its lead. The Highlanders camed up empty in the eighth and now have three more outs to make up a 9-1 deficit -- and that's if Nebraska doesn't score in the bottom of the eighth. I'm starting to prep for ASU-Nebraska tonight.
Johnny Huskerfan in row four is making things happen for Nebraska. He's a large, burly, bearded and tattooed man who clearly drives a large truck or loud motorcycle. His back and shoulders are sunburned enough to where he doesn't need to wear a red Nebraska jersey and he's making more noise on his own than the rest of Brock Ballpark.
Nebraska just took a 7-1 lead, so I can only conclude that he's the reason. The fifth inning was a complete disaster for Riverside. It started when Jaime Pedroza muffed a sure double-play ball that left two on with one out instead of ending the inning.
Craig Corriston made the Highlanders pay with a bases-loaded two-RBI single later in the inning. To make matters worse, the Riverside infielders later let an infield fly drop instead of ending the inning and pitcher Stephen Penney couldn't figure out which base to throw the ball. The miscue allowed DJ Belfonte, who reached earlier when Dan Runzler plunked him on the head, to score from third.
Pat Cassa's day is mercifully over for Riverside as he was pulled after giving up four runs, four walks and seven hits in 3.2 innings of work. It could have been worse with the aforementioned pair of Nebraska baserunning errors and the bases-loaded situation he left for reliever Dan Runzler. Runzler actually hit Jake Opitz to walk in a run, but no more damage was done as the Huskers hold a 4-1 lead heading into the fifth.
I appreciate the tips from readers on what to do in Tempe. I ended up having a couple of Kirins and rolls at a sushi joint down the road from the ballpark last night. The sushi was ok; the cold Kirin was outstanding after the hot day. I cruised down to Mill Ave. as well, but didn't stop. I was impressed with the showing on the main strip on a Saturday with school out of session. It must have been all the baseball fans in town.
Carl Uhl finally got things started for Riverside as the Highlanders got their first hit and first run in the third inning. Uhl cranked a drive to the right field corner that almost let him take a shot at an in-the-park home run. He wisely held up for a leadoff triple that paid off when Joey Gonzales sent him home with a single to cut the Nebraska lead to 2-1.
Meanwhile, Nebraska continues to get good wood -- uhh... aluminum -- on the ball, but couldn't manage any more runs after picking up a pair of singles and a walk in the bottom of the third. Another baserunning error cost them as Craig Corriston got caught stealing. That's the second Husker caught stealing through three innings; both of them could have scored and Nebraska could be sitting on a 4-1 lead instead of a 2-1 edge.
Everything's going the Huskers' way early today. After threatening in the first, Nebraska picked up a couple of runs off of Pat Cassa in the second; and it would have been worse had Jeff Tezak not been caught stealing.
Andy Gerch got things started with a leadoff home run from the no. 5 spot. Tezak followed up with a double before getting picked off. Bryce Nimmo walked the next at bat; a single and a fielder's choice later and the Huskers had built a 2-0 lead.
To add to the fun, the Riverside dugout got all bent out of shape again. Two coaches came out to argue with the umpires during the inning. Maybe they were inspired with Doug Smith's dramatic ousting in the first. Whatever it is, things don't look good early for the Highlanders.
It didn't take long for things to get exciting at Brock Ballpark today. Arguing balls and strikes in the first inning, Riverside Coach Doug Smith got himself tossed -- in a 0-0 elimination ballgame.
I'm shocked. Smith has been nothing but calm and congenial in press conferences and is the last coach here I'd expect to get so riled up. Maybe it's a motivation technique, but it doesn't make sense to me. It's real early in the game and Smith's Highlanders are clearly the favorite today.
The matchups today pit Nebraska's Johnny Dorn (9-3, 5.68 ERA) against Riverside's Pat Cassa (2-4, 4.50 ERA). Cassa looked shaky early, walking the first two batters, but got out of the inning unscathed. We go into the second with no score.
Thanks to the fans writing in with the kind words. It's great to see the support of college baseball from the traveling fans as well as the ASU fans here in Arizona. As for the setting here in Tempe today, I must be getting acclimated to the heat. I just heard today was supposed to be the hottest yet -- reaching 106 degrees -- and I haven't started whining yet.
Ok -- I know I'm supposed be out on the town by now, but I just got a look at the box score from ASU's win over Riverside and it's scary how locked in the offense and the pitching is. Mike Leake got nine innings of support tonight, but didn't need most of it as ASU Coach Pat Murphy summed it up best.
"When (Leake) is locked in, you can see it in his demeanor on the mound... They don't know what pitch is coming. It is just amazing. He could have pitched 16 innings tonight."
Nine was all they needed and that's what they got as Leake's complete game included 10 strikeouts, four hits, two runs and one walk. When he showed up in the seventh inning with six more runs of support to work with, it didn't change his approach at all.
"I try not to think about it," Leake said. "I try to think of us losing, or we're down -- just to stay focused... I try not to look at the scoreboard."
Stay focused is exactly what he did. And his performance comes on the heels of Brian Flores' eight-inning clinic on Friday where he struck out eight batters and gave up one earned run on three hits.
And the Sun Devils haven't even thrown their best pitcher yet. Josh Satow will take the mound on Sunday sporting an 11-3 record and 2.23 ERA. He'll face the winner of the afternoon's Nebraska-Riverside matchup. The way things are going, though, I don't think the opponent will really make a difference.
After an opening game in which they were held in check with five runs, the vaunted ASU bats showed us what they're made of against Riverside tonight in a 9-2 shellacking. With the win, the Sun Devils get Sunday afternoon off while Riverside faces Nebraska for the right to play ASU again.
Riverside already smoked Nebraska 10-5 on Friday and I'd be surprised if Sunday's game turned out much different. But whoever survives to face the Sun Devils, one thing is clear; they'll be facing the class of this regional and one of the best teams in the country. The Sun Devils have made that clear this weekend, even if they did struggle to put away a scrappy Monmouth team.
The loser of Sunday's Nebraska-Riverside matchup, meanwhile, will head home. But it's going to be tough for anybody to get past the Sun Devils, who have yet to lose in the double-elimination format. I'd be shocked if Nebraska or Riverside manages consecutive wins against ASU.
As for me, I'm starting to get a handle on the weather and the schedule here, so I've saved up enough energy to have some fun tonight. I'll go see what downtown Tempe has to offer when school's not in session. Hopefully the home team's win tonight will liven things up around campus.
And as for my lemonade... it never game. I'm disappointed.
If UCR pulls this game out in the bottom of the ninth, it will be headline material. Trailing 9-2 against the nation's no. 5 overall seed in front of around 5,000 excited ASU fans, the Highlanders have some serious work to do. I guess stranger things have happened, but I've never seen it.
I generally don't like calling games in the seventh inning, but after Arizona State's monster six-run effort, I'm going to go ahead and say this one's over (Of course, as soon as I wrote this, Riverside picked up another run).
After leaving the bases loaded in the fifth, the Sun Devils made sure to take advantage in the seventh when the heart of the order came up with the bases loaded and no outs. No. 3 hitter Eric Sogard got the party started with an RBI single and it wasn't over until Andrew Romine's triple brought two more runs -- five batters later.
Along with Romine and Sogard, Kiel Roling, Ike Davis and Petey Paramore logged RBI in the inning. Riverside picked up a run in the bottom of the inning, but trailing 8-2, they have a long way to go.
As for the lemonade issue, I'm still waiting for Bryan, who wrote in earlier promising a round of frozen lemonade for the ASU game. We're in the eighth inning and I'm beginning to lose hope.
Arizona State had a golden opportunity to come up with a big fifth inning, but got nothing with two on, no outs and the meat of the order at the plate. No. 9 hitter Joe Persichina led led off the inning with a walk and advanced to seconnd when leadoff hitter Tim Smith singled.
Riverside pitcher Matt Montgomery followed up with two outs, setting up slugger Kiel Roling -- owner of a .370 average with 14 home runs and 58 RBI -- with two on and two outs. He walked, but Ike Davis couldn't take advantage, striking out to end the inning and keep the Highlanders up 2-1.
Behind a rowdy crowd of ASU supporters giving what I thought was the shocker hand signal in cheering their Sun Devils on, ASU posted a two-run fourth inning to take a 2-1 lead over Riverside. Ike Davis and Petey Paramore both picked up RBI in the inning.
I also learned from an ASU graduate working in the media that they're not actually giving the shocker, but a pitchfork sign. You know -- like the devil's pitchfork. And if you don't know what the shocker is, I'm not going to explain it.
Well -- in my case make it water. I'm trying to stay hydrated. I'm more than exceeding the daily recommended intake of eight glasses of water a day on top of the Brock Ballpark press box. I just downed another 20-ounce bottle to bring the count to 84 ounces on the day. I think I'm going to beat yesterday's mark of 92 ounces. Riveting stuff, I know.
As for the game, ASU got a baserunner when Petey Paramore walked in the second inning, but couldn't do anything with him. Riverside found a little more success with a pair of knocks that scored Aaron Wible when Ben Price hit a line drive to center field. The Highlanders take a 1-0 lead into the third.
Through one inning, pitching and defense are on display in the winners' bracket nightcap between Arizona State and UC Riverside. Nobody reached base as we rolled through the inning in less than 10 minutes.
Mike Leake (12-1, 3.72 ERA) is on the mound for the Sun Devils while Matt Montgomery (5-0, 2.50 ERA) gets the start for the Highlanders.
In keeping with the theme of heat here in Tempe, the food service staff served spicy potato salad with the media dinner today -- just in case we weren't hot enough already. With all of my complaining though, today has been quite bearable. I don't know if the weather's better or if I'm growing more tolerant -- probably a little bit of both.
I got out of the Nebraska press conference before grabbing dinner and I think Coach Mike Anderson realizes he's lucky that his Huskers got past Monmouth to stay alive and that after using three starters and almost his entire bullpen through two games, his pitching staff is in tough straits.
"You've got to give credit to Monmouth," Anderson said. "They're a scrappy bunch.
"I've already had Tony Wilson and Luke Wertz," Anderson responded after being asked about the availability of starter Matt Foust, who won the Monmouth game out of the bullpen. "Everybody's available. (They say) 'if you need me for a hitter, let me know.'"
They likely will need several pitchers on Sunday. Whether its Arizona State or UC-Riverside, the Huskers will be facing some big bats.
It wasn't easy, but it was a win for Nebraska as the Huskers held on for a 6-5 win over Monmouth to advance to Sunday's losers' bracket. The Hawks, despite two hard-fought games, are headed back to New Jersey.
After giving up the five-run seventh inning, Monmouth looked ready to take back the lead with two on and no outs in the eighth. But the Hawks could only muster one run, and left three on base and came up empty in the ninth to put an end to their season.
Matt Foust, a regular starter for Nebraska, picks up the win in relief for the Huskers after Nebraska depleted its bullpen on Friday. Brett Brach, who pitched just one-third of an inning, takes the loss. The Huskers advance to face the loser of tonight's ASU-UC Riverside game.
I'm off to wacth the press conference in the air-conditioned press room. I'll check back in later.
While my newfound broadcast friends in the pressbox talked about deadly golf course rattlesnakes and quoted Anchorman -- I never knew if local newsies actually liked that movie -- Nebraska was busy mounting a rally to take a 6-4 lead.
Bryce Nimmo, one of our heroes from the frozen lemonade episode in the fourth inning, got things started with a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh. Nick Sullivan then srtuck out, but Jake Mort followed up with an RBI single to cut the Monmouth lead to 4-2. After walking DJ Belafonte, pitcher Ryan Buch's day came to an end.
Brett Brach took over and got Craig Corriston to fly out, but then the real damage happened, all with two outs. Five straight baserunners reached on two doubles, a single and two walks as the Huskers took the two-run lead into the eighth inning.
I've been impressed with the Hawks' resilience this weekend, but they're going to have to dig deep to pull this one out.
After lying dormant for most of the day, the Monmouth bats came alive in the sixth to take control of the game and put an end to Tony Watson's day. The first four Hawks batters and six of the first seven reached base as Monmouth took a 4-1 lead. Leadoff hitter Kyle Higgins got things started with a single. Kyle Messineo walked and Andy Meyers singled, setting up Rick Niederhaus for the biggest swing of the day. He hit a long fly ball to left centerfield that hung up just enough to where it looked like the park would hold it.
But Nebraska left fielder Andy Gerch came up just short as it grazed the yellow line at the top of the outfield wall and bounced over for a three-run shot.
Shawn Teters then flied out, but when Chris Collazo singled, Nebraska Coach Mike Anderson had seen enough. Matt Foust came in and finished out the inning with no further damage.
John, one of the Nebraska TV guys, promised to buy frozen lemonades if the Huskers scored in the fourth inning. I know I'm supposed to remain neutral and professional, but, just for an inning, I was definitely a Nebraska fan.
Jeff Tezak and Bryce Nimmo came through for us. Tezak got things started with a drive down the right field line that found its way to the corner of the outfield. He got to third base with one out, leaving us 90 feet away from lemonade. Nimmo brought him home with a groundout to second base, giving Nebraska a 1-0 lead through four innings.
There's not much to report through the first two innings outside of an outstanding defensive play from Monmouth left fielder Justin Braun. Nebraska's Jeff Lanning hit a shot to left centerfield that looked like it would drop for a double, but Braun dropped and slid on his knees to snag the ball before it hit the ground.
Other than that, Nebraska's got a couple of knocks, but no runs in a 0-0 tie.
We're back live for day two in Tempe and it's still hot. I walked out of my sweet sweet air-conditioned hotel room around 11 this morning to overcast skies and a bearable temperature. It was just a tease. The sun's out at Brock Ballpark and pushing 100 degrees again. Though I have to admit, it is slightly better than Friday.
No. 3 seed Nebraska and 4th-seeded Monmouth get the party started here today in the losers' bracket. If the same teams show up today that played yesterday, I'm calling the upset right now. Monmouth brought grit and fight to a matchup with powerhouse ASU that came down to the last pitch. Nebraska -- well, not so much -- in the grit and fight department that is.
The Huskers went through seven pitchers and a myriad of control issues in a 10-5 loss to UC Riverside that really wasn't that close.
Monmouth brings stud pitcher Ryan Buch (9-2, 2.17 ERA) to the mound while Nebraska starts Tony Watson (6-4, 3.94 ERA). The winner gets the loser of tonight's ASU-Riverside matchup. The loser goes home.
ASU tacked on another home run in the eighth and survived a big-time Monmouth rally in the ninth to advance to Saturday's winners' bracket with a 5-3 win over Monmouth.
Starter Brian Flores gave up a single to start the ninth and Coach Pat Murphy decided to bring in reliever Jason Jarvis. Flores left with a 5-1 lead against a four-seed in the ninth, probably feeling pretty comfortable about the win. I guarantee that he didn't stay comfortable.
I know Ike Davis hit the monster home run to put ASU ahead 3-1 and is a .358 hitter on the season. But with first base open and two outs, I don't understand Monmouth's decision to pitch around Davis to get to Petey Paramore. Paramore is a .371 hitter. When is it ever a good idea to pitch around to a .371 hitter with two outs?
Like any .371 hitter worth his salt, Paramore made the Hawks pay with an RBI single to give the Sun Devils a 4-1 lead through seven.
This always happens. As soon as I make a proclamation, something changes on the field to prove me wrong. ASU's Ike Davis just emphatically broke up the pitchers' duel with a two-run shot that landed on Rural Road well beyond the right field fence.
For you MLB fans out there, Rural Road is pretty much Brock Ballpark's version of McCovey Cove except for the fact that it's a high-traffic four-lane road heading into downtown Tempe. I don't think anybody got hurt. I didn't hear a crash.
In a game that had blowout written all over it on paper, Monmouth is giving the nation's no. 5 overall seed a game on its home field. Through five innings ASU's Brian Flores and the Hawks' Brad Brach are locked in a pitchers' duel with a 1-1 tie.
And it isn't a fluke. Brach had an excellent season with a 2.72 ERA, but the scorching bats of ASU (which hits .349 as a team -- better than all but one of Monmouth's hitters) figured to show him something he hadn't seen in Northeast Conference play. So far, Brach's remained calm and collected, even through a three-hit second inning that could have been much worse than the one-run effort ASU got.
Flores, meanwhile, is locked in, rolling through the Monmouth lineup. A pair of errors led to the Monmouth run as he's given up just two hits so far.
Monmouth got its first hit and its first run off of Brian Flores in the fourth inning but blew a chance to take the lead. Kyle Higgins led off the inning with a double deep to right field. Kyle Messino followed up by outrunning the throw on a ground ball to log an infield single. But Flores' throw to first ended up in right field, allowing Higgins to score and Messino to take third with no outs.
But a baserunning blunder cost the Hawks a chance at another run. Rick Niederhaus hit a ground ball just left of second base and Messnio decided to make a run for home. He didn't make it. A base hit and a groundout later, and the ASU tok the field tied, 1-1.
Monmouth's Brad Brach got through the first inning unscathed, but it didn't take long for the Arizona State bats to make some noise. Kiel Roling, a .365 hitter -- good for fifth best on the team -- crushed a Brach offering over the right field wall to give the Sun Devils a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
It could have been much worse for the Hawks, with Brach facing Matt Hall with runners on second and third. But Brach showed why he's 9-2 with a 2.72 ERA, striking Hall out looking with a nasty curve on a full count to end the inning.
It's just after 7 p.m. local time, the sun is setting and it's cooled down to a chilly and much more tolerable... hmmm -- let me check the online weather report... 100 degrees. It's a vast improvement from the 103 degrees from this afternoon.
So the nightcap is just getting started pitting the heavily favored Arizona State Sun Deivls against the NEC champion Monmouth Hawks. ASU, playing at home, is the region's top seed and no. 5 seed overall. So for you hoops heads out there, this basically amounts to a 15-2 matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
The half-empty stands from this afternoon are almost full of Sun Devil fans who watch Brian Flores take his 9-1 record and 4.00 ERA to the mound against Monmouth's Brad Brach, who sports a 9-2 record and 2.72 ERA.
Riverside starter James Simmons found the strike zone today. Nebraska's seven pitchers did not. That was the difference in the afternoon game as Simmons picked up a seven-run victory while Nebraska pitchers walked 10 Highlander batters.
"He kept his composure real well and kept pumping out strikes," Nebraska coach Mike Anderson said of Simmons. "None of (the Nebraska pitchers) threw a large number of pitches. I think every one of them can come back. The key is they've got to come back and throw some strikes."
And that pretty much somes the Riverside win up. When Nebraska pitchers weren't walking Riverside batters, they were giving up big hits to Jaime Pedroza and Carl Uhl, who combined to go 5-for-9 with two home runs and seven RBI.
While Anderson and Nebraska starter Luke Wertz insisted the 103-degree heat wasn't a factor today, they'll have to face it again on Saturday with the losers' bracket being played in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Riverside gets to play under the lights and Simmons gets to rest for the remainder of the weekend after picking up the win.
"I didn't look at any scouting reports," Simmons said of his preparation. "I just went out and pitched the way I pitch."
Talk about a rally killer. After cutting a five-run deficit to 7-2, Nebraska walked home three runs with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to give Riverside a 10-5 lead that held through the end of the game. With Jaime Pedroza, who already had four RBI, at the plate and runners on second and third, Nebraska decided to load the bases intentionally.
Zack Herr took over at the mound for Thad Weber with the bases loaded and one out. He promptly forced cleanup hitter Mark Samuleson into a popout. Instead of keeping Weber on the mound, Nebraska coach Mike Anderson made the risky decision to play matchups and bring Steve Edlefsen in.
It turned out to be a big mistake. Edlefsen threw six straight balls and walked consecutive runs in before Tim Radmacher took his place. Radmacher then walked a third run in to give the Highlanders a 10-5 lead that ended up being the winning margin when the Huskers came up empty in the ninth.
Riverside moves on to Saturday's winners' bracket while Nebraska faces an elimination game in the heat with a much-depleted bullpen. Nebraska went through seven pitchers today and will have a tough road ahead on Friday.
The Huskers have found life and so have the fans here at Brock Ballpark. After allowing two hits and throwing a wild pitch to start the eighth, Riverside starter James Simmons got the hook holding a 7-3 lead. Taylor Bills came out of the bullpen and couldn't stop the bleeding.
The Huskers countered with pinch hitter Nick Sullivan, who singled to right field to score another run, prompting the Nebraska faithful to stand up and cheer for the first time. Two hits later and DJ Sullivan's single scored Sullivan to pull the Nebraska deficit to a much more manageable 7-5 heading into the bottom of the eighth.
The Huskers picked up another run in the sixth, but still have a big hill to climb with a 7-2 deficit to Riverside.
Meanwhile, the fans here at Brock Ballpark suck... at fielding that is. I've seen four foul balls popped into the stands and hit spectators squarely in the hands. All four dropped them. These guys need some gloves.
Nebraska threatened in the fifth inning with two on and two outs and Riverside pitcher James Simmons having control issues, but Jake Opitz popped up after building a 3-1 count to end the inning. Riverside still leads, 7-1.
Before moving into the sixth, the grounds crew took the hoses to the infield to wet down the dry desert dirt. I saw similar conditions in Las Vegas last week at the Mountain West Championship where the dry ground played a huge roll in how the games played out. The crew there only wet down the infield in between games and the hard ground made for some very strange and high bounces that led to more runs than would have been scored under normal conditions. It looks like the grounds crew here wants to keep a more level playing field.
It looks like the Husker pitchers are the first to succumb to the heat. Riverside has taken command of this game after backing up a three-run third with a four-run fourth. After walking Kyle Barrat and Jeff Dunbar to load the bases, Nebraska starter Luke Wertz faced Carl Uhl, who had homered in the third inning. Uhl didn't clear the fences this time, but a line-drive double was good enough to score two more runs.
Wertz then walked Joey Gonzalez to bring Jaime Pedroza to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Pedroza, like Uhl, had already homered off of Wertz, so the Huskers went with the pitching change, bringing in Dan Jennings from the bullpen. It didn't do much good as Pedroza picked up his third and fourth RBI with a blooper to short left field. The big inning gives Riverside a 7-1 lead going into the fifth.
Ok -- sorry. Riverside found life in the third. With two outs and two strikes, leadoff hitter Carl Uhl got the scoring started for the Highlanders with a one-shot home run over center field -- his first of the season. Luke Wertz then walked Joey Gonzales. Jaime Pedroza took advantage, sending a ball over the left field wall for a team-leading 13th home run of the season to give the Highlanders a 3-1 lead. So far, all the runs scored have come courtesy of home runs.
It should be interesting to see how the heat affects the pitchers this weekend. I'm complaining about having to write in the desert weather, but the thought of standing on the mound heaving a ball for several innings in long pants and a cap sounds unbearable.
Next time I'm given the choice of staying at home in San Diego or traveling to Tempe in June, I'm going to make the sensible decision. I just checked the weather report back home, where it's 65 degrees and partly cloudy. I don't need to check the weather report here to know that it is ridiculously friggin' hot. I did just for kicks, though, and it's 103 degrees.
To make matters worse, I'm sitting on the roof of the press box. That means no air conditioning. Not that it would make much difference as the brilliant designers of Brock Stadium decided it would be a good idea to build an open air press box for a spring and summer sport in the middle of the country's hottest climate. I should have stayed at home.
Alas, I'm not here to complain. I'm here to hook you up with the latest and greatest NCAA Regional action here in Tempe. Nothing much happened in the second inning as both pitchers seem to be settling into a rhythm. After two, Nebraska still holds a 1-0 lead over UC-Riverside.
We're underway here in Tempe and no. 3 seed Nebraska jumped out in front in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead over no. 2 seed UC-Riverside. Riverside starter James Simmons, owner of a 10-3 record and 2.32 ERA, almost got out of the first unscathed, but with two outs and two strikes against Andrew Brown, he put up an offering that found too much of the plate. Brown, a .316 hitter with nine home runs, crushed the offering over the centerfield wall to give Nebraska the edge.
Meanwhile, Nebraska's Luke Wertz ((4-0, 2.05 ERA) gave up a hit but nothing else in the bottom of the inning.
No. 1 Seed Arizona State (43-13)
Host Arizona State is a program rich in College World Series history and has a chance to add to its tradition this year armed with a Pac-10 title, 11 All-Pac-10 selections and a No. 5 seed. The five-time champions haven't won a title since 1981, but have the talent to make a run to Omaha.
It starts with a ridiculous offense that sports a .349 batting average. That's not their leading hitter's average -- that's what they hit as a team. It's good for third-best in the nation and produces 8.82 runs per game.
Brett Wallace leads the way with a .426 average that’s good for ninth-best in the nation. And he's not just a contact hitter; he also leads the team with 15 home runs and 73 RBI.