After wrapping up the Summit League regular-season championship and securing the top seed for the upcoming conference tournament on Thursday, UNO was freed from playing with pressure on Friday.
The Mavericks, however, still wanted to get two things done in a matchup with Oral Roberts — build on the offensive momentum they started Thursday and get recently injured Joey Machado pitching again.
They accomplished both, and nearly pulled off a late rally to boot, in a 9-8 loss at Seymour Smith Park.
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UNO (28-20-1) battled back from a seven-run deficit to put the winning run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth inning before Oral Roberts reliever Spencer Henson got Thomas DeBonville to fly out to right.
“The guys did a good job of playing defense all day and staying with it,” UNO coach Evan Porter said. “These games are tougher for the team that doesn’t really have as much to fight for. They need to win.”
The Golden Eagles (25-24), who have won the Summit League tourney the last 19 times they’ve been in it, secured the No. 3 seed for next week’s event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the win. They pounded out 17 hits while doing so and led the entire way after scoring five runs against Machado in the second inning.
UNO’s Friday starter was making his first appearance since leaving his April 26 outing against South Dakota State with pain in his pitching forearm. MRI results after revealed a strained brachialis muscle.
Machado said he went without throwing for 13 days. His first bullpen session was this past Monday.
“It’s tough when you take one day off, let alone 13, from throwing,” he said. “It’s tough getting back on the mound and seeing a batter. Your adrenaline is running. I felt like I was in a new world or something.”
The results of his start on Friday were secondary, Porter said. Machado just needed to get some work in.
“He’s such a mature guy that we weren’t worried about the result, just getting him out there and getting him back to the starting routine,” Porter said. “A week from now, he’ll be doing it again. We’re excited.”
Machado (5-2) suffered his first defeat since February in an abbreviated stint. He faced only 11 batters.
“It was going to be short no matter what,” the sophomore said. “I think I had a 50-pitch limit. And, sadly, I think I hit that in the second inning. It was great to see live (at-bats). Would it have been nicer if it wasn’t against a top-caliber team like ORU? Yes. But that’s how it happened. That’s the way it worked.”
The Golden Eagles got RBI doubles from Andrew Pace and Blake Hall in their five-run outburst, which also included a two-run single by Hunter Wilson. Hall homered during a four-run seventh that made it 9-2.
UNO managed only Ben Palensky’s homer and Keil Krumwiede’s RBI single against Oral Roberts starter Matt Gaskins (5-4). But it answered Oral Roberts’ four-run outburst in the seventh inning with one of its own.
DeBonville started the surge with a two-run homer. Brett Bonar then added a two-out, two-run double.
A pair of errors by the Golden Eagles provided the Mavs with a late chance to pull out a victory. But Henson, who allowed two hits and walked three in his sixth save, got the out he needed to end things.
ORU moved to 16-12 in the Summit to join UNO and second-place South Dakota State in next week’s tournament field. The fourth and final berth will go to either Western Illinois or North Dakota State.
If Western Illinois beats last-place Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday, it will face the Mavs in the opening round. A loss to the Mastodons, however, would put the Bison in the field to take on top-seeded UNO instead.
Porter said it makes no difference who his team draws. He just wants the Mavs to keep playing well.
“With a four-team tournament, you’ve got to beat everybody at some point,” he said. “We just need to keep going with this momentum. I thought the guys did a great job. We had a lot of loud outs today and still put up some runs. If we can keep this momentum going, I like where this is headed.”