Niagara's fiery start is dowsed in season-ending loss to Nebraska in NCAA Regional

Jun. 1—Niagara had a runner on first and the man they wanted at the plate to tie the game with season on the line.

Having the best season of any hitter in program history, Eric Rataczak stepped into the batter's box down two with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But Nebraska's Jalen Worthley gave him four sliders in a row and none of Rataczak's swings connected as the Purple Eagles were eliminated from the NCAA tournament, 7-5, Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

After falling behind by 10 runs early against Oklahoma State in the tournament opener Friday, Niagara jumped on the Cornhuskers early, as Rataczak delivered a three-run home run — setting the single-season school record with 17 — in the bottom of the first and Nick Groves flied out to right field to take a 4-0 lead through two innings.

But after allowing no runs and no hits in the first two innings, Niagara starter Blake MacMillan allowed a lead-off single to Dylan Carey in the third, a four-pitch walk and a three-run blast by Case Sanderson to cut into the lead. Sanderson tied the game on a sacrifice fly in the fifth and Gabe Swansen gave Nebraska its first lead on a solo shot.

Niagara shortstop Brady Desjardins led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run on the first pitch offered and Rataczak walked on the next at-bat, but Niagara was retired by pitcher Mason McConnaughey on six pitches.

Following a lead-off double, Niagara reliever Ryan Minckler was errant on a throw to first after fielding a bunt by Rhett Stokes and it plated Tyler Stone for the go-ahead run in the sixth. Sanderson homered again in the seventh for the Cornhuskers.

Twice Niagara had a chance to tie the game in the final two innings, but couldn't scratch a run. Nick Monile doubled to center with two outs, but Vincent Mauro struck out swinging to end the threat an inning before Desjardins singled and Rataczak struck out to end the game, as Niagara struggled to solve Worthley, who needed just 32 pitches to record nine outs in three innings.

After giving up three hits in the first two frames, McConnaughey allowed two in the next four. He finished with five earned runs on five hits and struck out 10 over six innings, as the Purple Eagles struck out 22 times over two tournament games.

Sanderson finished with four RBIs, while Swansen had two hits and two RBIs for the Cornhuskers.

MacMillan gave up three earned runs on two hits and three walks over three innings, while Zach Cameron allowed one earned run on two hits and struck out five over four innings. Rataczak finished with single-season school records in home runs (17), runs (58), RBIs (71) and hits (88).

Niagara finished the season 38-17.