TULSA, Okla. — Joey Machado returned from injury to face 11 Oral Roberts batters last week.
UNO’s redshirt sophomore, his team’s Friday starter all season, wasn’t looking for results in the outing. After missing three weeks with a forearm strain, he needed to face live hitters before the postseason.
Although he was roughed up in that start, Machado got what he needed out of it. And in the biggest game in the Mavericks’ short Division I history on Friday, the Omaha Creighton Prep graduate returned to top form.
Machado (6-2) survived a rocky first inning to pitch UNO past Oral Roberts in the second round of the Summit League tournament. The 3-2 victory put the Mavs in Saturday’s championship game at 11 a.m.
UNO will face Oral Roberts again with an NCAA tournament berth on the line at J.L. Johnson Stadium. ORU, which eliminated South Dakota State 4-0 later Friday, has to beat the Mavs twice to claim the title.
Machado limited Oral Roberts to two hits over his final six innings of work Friday. He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth inning before retiring the Golden Eagles in order in the seventh.
“My arm was feeling good, but it wasn’t feeling great,” Machado said. “The injury was still a little bit in the back of my head ... at least in the first inning it was. Towards the end of it, when I was kind of starting to let it go, it started to loosen up and it felt great. It felt like I hadn’t even sat out any time. It was awesome.”
Last week Machado suffered his first loss since late February when Oral Roberts scored five second-inning runs off of him in Omaha. The Golden Eagles, who entered Friday with a 63-3 all-time record in Summit tournament games, then had five consecutive batters reach base against him in the two-run first inning.
But Machado escaped the inning with no further damage. He later wiggled out of the sixth when he got to Anthony Martinez to foul out and Jake McMurray to ground into a force play with the bases loaded.
“I’m so happy for Joey. He pitched like an ace today,” UNO coach Evan Porter said. “It was a rough start. Four of their first six guys end up getting a base hit. But I knew if he could just get through that first inning, he’d settle in because of the type of guy he is and how mature he is. And he did exactly that.”
UNO carried the momentum from the end of the sixth inning into the decisive seventh.
Breyden Eckhout reached on an infield hit to open the seventh. And the Mavs, trailing 2-1, attempted to sacrifice him along.
But ORU starter Matt Gaskins (5-5) made an errant throw to first after fielding Keil Krumwiede’s bunt. Eckhout scored all the way from first as the ball sailed into right field. And Krumwiede ended up at third.
“It’s what we’ve been wanting to do all season: capitalize on their mistakes,” Krumwiede said. “Luckily, he threw it into right field and turned a routine sacrifice bunt into a triple. We definitely capitalized.”
Parker Smejkal followed with a sacrifice fly to bring home what proved to be the winning run. Machado got UNO through the bottom half of the inning before exiting. Andrew Brighton then pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the Mavs.
Blake Hall lined a single off UNO closer Cal Hehnke to open the Oral Roberts ninth. The Golden Eagles bunted him into scoring position, and Hall went to third when McMurray grounded out to Krumwiede at short.
With the tying run 90 feet away, Hehnke got Hunter Wilson to roll out to Krumwiede to end it.
“It’s a pressure situation. And I would not want to have anyone else on the mound than Cal Hehnke,” Krumwiede said. “You know he’s going to show up, bear down and give you a chance. And when I saw that ball coming at me ... it’s the type of situation where you’re saying, ‘Hit me the ball.’ You want those.
“And it felt like, after I threw that ball, it was in the air for 10 seconds. It took forever. When I saw it hit (Braden) Rogers’ glove, we knew we were in the championship. And we’re going to make it count.”
Oral Roberts has won the last 19 Summit League tournaments it has taken part in. UNO attempts to end the streak when the teams meet again Saturday morning.
“There’s more work to do,” Porter said. “This thing isn’t over yet. We’ve just got to keep going.”
Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates
Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.