OMAHA, Neb. - So this is why Jeff Larish returned to Arizona State for his senior season. Larish etched his name in college baseball lore by hitting three home runs and J.J. Sferra redeemed himself after a damaging base-running mistake in the ninth inning by driving in the game-winning run in the 11th as ASU defeated Nebraska, 8-7, in a memorable College World Series game Tuesday afternoon at Rosenblatt Stadium.
It was the fourth time ASU (41-24) survived elimination since the second game of its super regional series against Cal State Fullerton on June 11.
The Sun Devils will have to defeat Florida twice — at 11 a.m. today and at a time to be determined Thursday — to advance to this weekend’s three-game national championship series.
Larish thrice silenced a pro-Husker crowd estimated at 20,000 to tie Florida State’s J.D. Drew and Stanford’s Edmund Muth for the most home runs in a College World Series game. Neither of his first two solo shots was as stunning as the one Larish drilled over the center-field fence to tie the game at 7 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"The whole game was pretty much a roller coaster," Larish said. "I’m still trying to let it set in, not only my performance, but ... the team’s performance and the team’s response to the adversity that we faced."
The game-tying home run came after Nebraska (57-15) scored four runs off reliever Pat Bresnehan in the top half of the inning to turn a 5-3 deficit into a 7-5 lead.
Seth Dhaenens, who reached on an error by second baseman Jake Opitz, scored on Joe Persichina’s sacrifice fly earlier in the inning to make Larish’s homer the tying run. It would’ve been the winning run, but Persichina’s fly ball turned into a double play when the throw from center fielder Daniel Bruce beat Sferra back to first base.
"I thought (Bruce) dropped it but he didn’t and I got caught up in the moment," Sferra admitted. "I didn’t really know what to do, being the immature freshman that I am."
Sferra got a chance to redeem himself in the 11th after Zechry Zinicola, who was taken out of the batting order shortly before the game due to chronic nose bleeds, threw a pair of shutout innings.
Joey Hooft led off the 11th with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Dhaenens to bring Sferra to the plate. Sferra took a firstpitch ball then slapped a blooper over the head of Opitz to extend ASU’s season.
"I was just trying to drive the ball somewhere," Sferra said. "I didn’t really do a good job of driving it, but ... I slapped it over second and that’s baseball. We caught the break and we’ll take it."
The final three innings provided a fitting end to a game with plenty of dramatic plays and memorable performances.
ASU built a 2-0 lead thanks to Larish, who pounded a leadoff home run 10 rows into the left field bleachers in the first inning and pulled a solo shot over the right field fence with two outs in the third.
"That’s ridiculous. (He had) a trifecta, a home run to every field," ASU coach Pat Murphy said. "Larish had a superhuman performance. It was just unbelievable."
Nebraska scored three runs on Jason Urquidez, starting his second game against Nebraska since Friday, in the fourth inning to take the lead.
Colin Curtis tied the game on a drive to the left-field gap that drove in Persichina, who was pinch-running for Andrew Romine after Romine was cut on the cheek by a pitch that ricocheted off his hand.
ASU reclaimed the lead with a two-out rally in the seventh. After consecutive groundouts by Sferra and Persichina, Larish walked and Travis Buck singled. A miscommunication between Nebraska infielders allowed a Curtis pop-up to fall harmlessly in foul territory before Curtis singled up the middle to score Larish. Buck scored on an errant throw by Bruce on the play. It was Curtis’ third hit after going 1-for-8 in ASU’s first two College World Series games.