For a team that lost its first six games and 15 of its first 21, it would have been difficult to envision the University of Nebraska at Omaha baseball squad competing for a Summit League crown in its first full season as a league member.
The Mavericks not only competed, they clinched a share of the Summit League title Thursday with a 6-0 win over South Dakota State in front of 528 at the Ballpark at Boys Town. It's the first league title for UNO as a Division I program in any sport.
Tyler Fox and Cory Buckley combined on a four-hitter, and the Mavs offense pounded out 13 hits.
The Mavericks can claim the outright championship with one win over the Jackrabbits in their final three games Friday and Saturday.
UNO coach Bob Herold credited his players for the turnaround. The Mavs were picked to finish last in the six-team league in a preseason poll among league coaches.
“Boy, the guys, they turned the corner,” Herold said. “They took it upon themselves.
“I haven’t had a hit in 20 years, you know, so it’s up to these guys. The guys win the baseball games.”
But unfortunately for the Mavericks, the regular-season league title is the only one they’ll have a chance to capture this season.
As a reclassifying Division I program, the Mavericks aren’t eligible to play in the Summit League tournament or NCAA tournament until the 2015-16 school year.
Herold said that while the coaching staff had not discussed winning a championship, the players had and would have liked to participate in a postseason tournament.
“It’s incredibly disheartening,” Herold said. “Yeah, we’d like to have a shot at postseason. But this is a feather in UNO’s cap.”
Fox allowed three hits and struck out five as he improved to 6-2. He said postseason or not, the Mavs quieted the naysayers, going 19-6 in the last 25 games.
“We were picked to finish last, so that’s good just to prove to everybody that we’re here to win it,” Fox said.
“Who cares if we can’t go to the tournament? I mean, yeah, it sucks, but we won.”
The Mavs were able to get the leadoff batter aboard in three of the first four innings, cashing in on those opportunities to take a 4-0 lead after four while roughing up SDSU ace Layne Somsen.
Somsen, who entered the game with a 1.54 ERA and 20 hits allowed in 35 2⁄3 innings of Summit League play, surrendered his ninth hit of the game to Tyler Splichal, a double to right field in the fifth.
Splichal took third on the Mavs’ 10th hit off Somsen, a slow-roller to shortstop by Brett Bass for a single.
Bass was 3 for 4 with a run scored.
A squeeze bunt by Caleb Palensky scored Splichal and put UNO up 5-0 after five innings.
Meanwhile, Fox kept the Jackrabbits guessing, allowing just two hits while striking out four through six innings.
Fox was pulled after seven and Buckley allowed one hit and struck out two over the final two innings.
UNO and the Jackrabbits will square off in a 1 p.m. doubleheader Friday at Boys Town before the regular season finale at 1 p.m. Saturday.