This browser does not support the video element.
FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Koty Frank made the trot from the third-base dugout to the left-field bullpen in the third inning. Not what the Nebraska reliever expects on Friday nights with the team ace on the mound.
But with Cade Povich struggling to find his command and the Huskers’ falling further behind to begin the NCAA tournament, NU went off script. It eventually led to a happy ending as Frank retired 11 straight and Big Red rallied for its second-largest postseason comeback in school history with an 8-6 triumph over Northeastern in front of 2,237 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
“I had the confidence in our offense that we were going to hit,” Frank said. “It was like a ticking time bomb. It was just a matter of time until we started hitting.”
After three innings of frustration against Huskies starter Sebastian Keane that led to a 4-0 hole, the Big Ten’s top-scoring lineup settled in. Cam Chick ended a two-month power drought with a three-run blast to right in the fourth, and the Huskers tied the game a frame later on a Spencer Schwellenbach sacrifice fly.
Mojo Hagge’s RBI single in the sixth put Nebraska (32-12) up for good as it won its regional opener for the second straight postseason. The two seed survived a final Northwestern push in the eighth when closer Schwellenbach stranded the bases loaded, giving a fist pump as he covered first base for the last out.
Now, after a week of resisting the temptation to look ahead, Big Red will meet No. 1 overall seed Arkansas in a winners’ bracket game Saturday at 8 p.m. Coach Will Bolt said the team will stick to its season-long pattern and start right-handed sinkerballer Chance Hroch. Arkansas will likely counter with ace lefty Patrick Wicklander after the Hogs held on to beat NJIT 13-8 earlier Friday.
“These are the moments you live for, being able to play the best,” Chick said. “We’re looking forward to it, ready to give our best shot and play our brand of baseball.”
The outlook looked grim early on a picturesque evening in northwest Arkansas. Northeastern’s Danny Crossen connected for his first career homer to lead off the second, depositing a 2-1 pitch into the “Hog Pen” in left. Five straight Huskies reached in the third, with a two-run single from Jared Dupere and a two-base wild pitch extending their lead.
The rocky start was uncharacteristic for Povich, who was frequently up in the strike zone and without a trustworthy pitch. He departed after 3 1/3 innings — his second shorting outing of the season — and just three strikeouts against eight hits on 64 pitches.
“He wasn’t really fooling them there,” Bolt said. “It felt like it was time to go make a change, and it was huge for Koty to come in and get two pitches and two outs right there to get his feet settled in the game.”
NU went to Frank after Northeastern produced two singles in the fourth. The junior-college transfer — with a four-pitch mix including a funky “slider-change,” — needed two pitches to produce two outs, starting a string of 11 straight. The righty who would have likely been NU’s midweek starter this year went 3 2/3 innings overall, allowing just two walks in the eighth that came around to score while striking out a pair.
In an unexpected twist, Frank said the changeup was his difference-maker against the Huskies and their 22nd-ranked scoring offense. The pitch had been a work in progress all year and only recently became something he could command. Under the pressure of a regional game, it helped him generate six flyouts, three groundouts and a pair of strikeouts.
“He kind of had it all going on,” Northeastern first baseman Ian Fair said. “He was working both sides of the plate, three pitches, and we really just weren’t able to string together more than a couple at-bats at a time. He was really good.”
Added Huskies coach Mike Glavine: “I’m on the side, but it didn’t look like he threw anything straight.”
Northeastern starter Sebastian Keane — a redshirt freshman and the team’s No. 3 starter — turned away the first seven Huskers he faced. But he ran into trouble in the fourth when a Schwellenbach single and Brice Matthews walk set the table for Chick to crush a 2-0 fastball over the wall in right and allow the Huskers to settle in. The designed hitter had been 5 for his previous 27 (.186).
Jaxon Hallmark flashed his blazing speed with a triple off a Northeastern reliever in the fifth that led to a Schwellenbach sac fly that tied the game. A Matthews single and Chick walk in the sixth preceded a Hagge go-ahead RBI single. The three-run inning continued with a run-scoring balk and Joe Acker RBI hit, with one fifth-year senior driving in another in Hagge.
Nebraska made it 8-4 in the seventh when, with runners at the corners, Luke Roskam scored from third base when Matthews was caught stealing.
Northeastern upped the drama in the eighth, drawing two walks before Jake Bunz came on and plunked a batter. Shortly thereafter, Fair smashed a two-run single to left to pull the three seed within 8-6. Schwellenbach — the Big Ten Player of the Year — got a pair of groundouts to end the frame. He allowed a leadoff single and hit a batter in the ninth but grabbed a grounder back to the mound to officially collect his 10th save on his 29th pitch.
Northeastern (36-11) had been 28-2 when scoring first. The game against the champion of the Colonial Athletic Association champion also marked the Huskers’ first nonconference game of the season after navigating a mandated league-only schedule in the Big Ten.
The next nonconference tilt will be even more significant as the Huskers look to shock college baseball and start a regional 2-0 for the first time since its last College World Series run in 2005.
“We don’t care who it is on the other side,” Frank said. “We’re going to play our brand of baseball, we’re going to stay within us, we’re going to stick to our approach. We’re not going to let the atmosphere get to us.”