COLUMBIA It seemed like a tall order for Nebraska, which needed two wins Sunday against NCAA Regional host Missouri, the No. 15 overall seed, to remain on track for a return to the Women’s College World Series.
Thanks to seven home runs, including a quartet of two-run bombs by sophomore second baseman Hailey Decker, it didn’t prove to be that difficult in an 11-4, 8-1 sweep.
“I’m disappointed, of course, but Nebraska was a better team today,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said.
Decker staked the Cornhuskers to a two-run lead before an out had been recorded in both games of the regional final.
During the decisive second game, sophomore center field Kiki Stokes’ three-run blast in the fourth inning helped salt away the win and snap the Tigers’ streak of six consecutive NCAA Super Regional appearances.
“It was a momentum-changer for sure for us and … it set a tone,” said Stokes, who had five RBIs in the two games.
Decker, who finished with eight RBIs, piled on with another two-run blast, her fifth in two days and 14th of the season, during a three-run seventh inning.
“I’ve never hit that many home runs in a day before, so I was pretty excited about it,” said Decker, who ranked her performance Sunday as the best in her career.
Missouri, 43-18, was without freshman ace Tori Finucane, who suffered a thumb injury during bunt-fielding drills Tuesday in practice, throughout the weekend.
The Tigers survived against Bradley and Kansas without Finucane, the reigning SEC freshman of the year, but against a mashing Cornhuskers’ lineup her absence became too much to overcome.
“You want to be full-go with all your players at any position,” senior Mackenzie Sykes said of Finucane’s absence, “but Casey (Stangel’s) a great pitcher, so it Alora (Marble). They fought hard today.”
Stangel, a freshman lefethander, struck out five, but three of the eight hits she allowed left the park. She also allowed three walks in the complete-game loss.
“She didn’t pitch very good, and she’d be the first one to tell you that,” said Earleywine, who leaned on Stangel for three of the four games. “I don’t know if the three days in a row affected as much as there was just an upgrade in the hitters. She beat Bradley, she beat Kansas — good teams — but Nebraska’s another level of hitters, and that’s what she ran into today.”
Missouri’s only run came on junior Kelsea Roth’s solo home run leading off the fifth.
The Huskers, which opened the regional with a loss to Kansas, won four straight games and are only the seventh team to win a regional after losing the opener in 10 seasons since the NCAA adopted the current postseason format.
“It’s my 22nd year at Nebraska and I’ve been in a few regionals, but I haven’t seen this very often,” NU c coach Rhonda Revelle said. “I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet.”
Nebraska, 44-16, used four home runs to club its way past Missouri — which threw its No. 3 starter, Marble, a transfer from Southeast Missouri — during the first game of the final.
Decker teed off for a two-run homer in the first inning.
The Tigers briefly took the lead in the third inning when junior Angela Randazzo smashed a two-run double off the left-field wall for a 3-2 advantage, but the Cornhuskers erupted for seven runs in the bottom of the inning.
Decker slammed the Cornhuskers back into the lead with another two-run homer and freshman Austen Urness capped the outburst with a three-run bomb.
Senior Taylor Edwards added a solo shot in the fifth inning, while Stokes, an Olathe East graduate, drove in two runs — with a third-inning, bases-loaded walk and a fifth-inning RBI single.
Nebraska advances to face Alabama in Super Regional action next weekend.