Heroics against the Huskers; Mavs earn walk-off win over Nebraska

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Harrison Denk drove in Jack Lombardi for the winning run Sunday afternoon and the Mavericks celebrated a win over the Huskers. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

OMAHA, Neb. — Charlie Bell set the tone from the start Sunday afternoon and Jack Lombardi and Harrison Denk supplied the ninth-inning heroics as the Mavericks earned a 4-3 walk-off win over Nebraska.

The win was Omaha’s second over an in-state Division I program in less than a week (Creighton being the other) and came in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 3,009 at Tal Anderson Field.

“When you go deep into a ballgame against a team like that and it comes down to one or two plays, you really have to figure out how to win those close games, and you saw that today,” said Omaha head coach Evan Porter. “The goal is to be playing your best by conference season. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but that’s a really good Nebraska team and a really good win for us.

“Big hits by Jack and Harrison, and our pitchers really set the tone and kept us in it. But that’s how those games should go and I’m proud of the group for sticking with it. Today is definitely something we can build off of.”

The Mavericks fell behind in the second inning as Nebraska’s Core Jackson plated Josh Caron with an RBI single to center. However, that was the only run Bell allowed on the day. The sophomore struck out nine batters and gave up just two hits over five innings. Bell did issue four walks, but overall, he commanded the ball well.

The most disappointing part of Sunday’s contest was the fact that Bell, who exited with a 3-1 lead, did not factor into the win. Bell is 2-1 on the season with a 2.57 ERA.

“Charlie was awesome today,” Porter said. “He’s been just about that every outing so far this season against some really good competition. When you fill up the zone and don’t walk guys, you’re going to give your team a chance to win.

“He makes the opponent beat him, he doesn’t just give it to them, and he did that again today. Charlie really set the tone from the start, and then Joey picked up right where he left off.”

As for Bell, a 6-foot-5 righty, he said his main focus Sunday afternoon was to simply go after hitters.

“I just went out there and tried to attack guys and work ahead in counts,” Bell said. “I know I had a couple walks that I shouldn’t have, but overall, I was locating (pitches) and I just tried to trust my defense behind me. That’s what I’ve been doing all year and it’s been working so far.”

After leaving the bases loaded in the second, the Mavericks struck for three runs in the bottom of the third. Denk started the inning by doubling to left field. He then scored on a bunt by Will Hanafan and an error by Nebraska first baseman Colby Gomes.

Mike Boeve brought Hanafan home with a two-run bomb to left-center and made it 3-1. However, the Huskers responded in the top of the sixth.

After an error by Omaha shortstop Devin Hurdle, Nebraska took advantage with two outs. Jackson belted a two-run homer to right-center field off Omaha’s Joey Machado to knot the game at three. Besides that blemish, Machado, who ended up getting the win, was fantastic in relief.

Machado allowed just one hit and two runs over four innings, but neither run was earned. After Jackson’s blast, Machado responded by setting down seven straight batters and similar to Bell, he worked himself out of a jam. Machado stranded a Husker on third in the top of the ninth.

“They came back and tied it in the sixth, but our guys did a great job of staying in it,” Porter said. “Joey kept throwing up zeros and we got the big hits in the end. It all worked out.”

Machado is now 2-1 on the 2022 season and the Mavericks improve to 5-9 overall.

Omaha has already picked up wins against UCLA, Creighton and Nebraska in the first month of the season. Inside the Omaha dugout, there’s a sense of belief that they can compete with anyone. It’s part of the reason they didn’t back down in the ninth.

“We’ve known we’ve been good all year, we just haven’t always gotten the results,” Bell said. “Pulling off wins like this is definitely good for us and hopefully we can build some momentum off of it.”

Lombardi got the inning started with a double to left-center field. Then Denk stepped into the box and ended the game on Kyle Perry’s next pitch. The senior laced a pitch up the middle and into center field, bringing in Lombardi from second. Lombardi slid across the plate and a celebration ensued just beyond first base.

Denk entered the day hitting just .175, but he made up for it in a big way Sunday. He was 2-for-4 with an RBI, run scored and a walk as well.

“Harrison’s just a great person and a great teammate, so I was happy to see him get that hit there,” Porter said. “His average might not show what he brings to the team, but he has put together quite a few quality at-bats this season.

“I think he’s up at the plate with the mindset of trying to do something for the team every single time, and I had a really good feeling when he stepped in the box. He came through for us.”

The Mavericks won’t have too long to soak this one in, as they’ll face the Huskers in Lincoln on Monday. First pitch for the back half of the home-and-home is 1 p.m. Mark Timmins will get the start for Omaha.

But at the same time, moments after beating Nebraska in front of a packed house, Porter couldn’t help but smile with the sun shining down on his program’s beautiful facility.

“Being an alum, growing up here and coaching here, seeing a packed stadium for a UNO baseball game is pretty special,” Porter said. “It’s amazing and it’s a dream come true seeing the ballpark like it is today and getting the result on top of it, it’s just really special.”