From Nebraska media relations department
Minneapolis – The No. 8 seed Nebraska baseball team (34-22) had a 2-0 lead after the top of the sixth, but the No. 1 seed Illinois Fighting Illini (46-6-1) scored the game’s final three runs for a 3-2 victory in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday night at Target Field. With the win, the No. 5 nationally ranked Illini extended their winning streak to 27 games, the longest streak in the country this season.
After the Illini took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, they turned the ball over to Big Ten Pitcher-of-the-Year Tyler Jay, who retired the Huskers in order in the ninth for his 13th save of the season.
The Huskers entered the game with a 25-4 record on the year when outhitting their opponent and out-hit the Illini 9-7, but couldn’t get the extra hits they needed late. Nebraska also fell to 0-6 on the year in games decided by one-run against Big Ten teams.
Freshman Scott Schreiber was 3-for-4 at the plate and drove in a run, while Tanner Lubach was 2-for-4 with a double. Freshman Luis Alvarado also added a RBI on the day, his fourth extra-base hit off Illini pitching in the last week after he produced two doubles and home run in Champaign, Ill., during last week’s conference series.
Two-time All-Big Ten pitcher Chance Sinclair made his 31st career start on Wednesday night and gave the Huskers 5.2 strong innings, as he allowed two runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out four. Sinclair allowed one hit over the first five innings, with three of Illinois’ four hits off of Sinclair coming in the sixth.
Junior Kevin Duchene, an unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection on Tuesday, started for the Illini and went 6.2 innings. Duchene allowed two runs on eight hits and two walks, while striking out five Huskers. It was the first time Duchene has allowed more than five hits in a start since April 17, when he gave up 10 hits to Indiana.
Nebraska had the game’s first runner in scoring position with two out in the second after Schreiber roped a single and then moved to second when Ben Miller drew the 11th walk of the season off Duchene in 84.2 innings. Jake Placzek stepped in an worked a 3-1 count and got a pitch to hit, but it resulted in a fly ball to left field to end the frame.
Illinois had its leadoff batter on base for the first time in the fourth when Ryan Nagle reached on a walk, but he didn’t advance any more. Sinclair responded with back-to-back strikeouts before Wes Edrington made a bare-handed play on a slow roller off the bat of Casey Fletcher to end the inning.
The Huskers offense was in position to score again in the fifth, but Duchene dug in. Schreiber led off with a single and then Placzek blasted a one-out double to put two runners on scoring position. Duchene got a shallow fly out off the bat of Edrington that wasn’t deep enough to score Schreiber and struck out Ryan Boldt swinging to end the Husker threat.
Sinclair retired the Illini in order in the fifth and the Husker offense finally broke through in the top of the sixth. Lubach got NU going with a one-out double to right-center field and scored the first run of the game when Alvarado doubled down the left-field line. The hits kept coming, as Blake Headley delivered a groundball single that put runners on the corners. Schreiber stepped in an worked an 11-pitch at-bat, delivering a RBI single on the 11th pitch to put the Husker onto 2-0.
The lead didn’t last long, as Illinois answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth. Ryne Roper started the inning with a single to set the table for the top of the NU lineup. Sinclair came back with a strikeout of Adam Walton before Nagle and Reid Roper each singled, with Ryne Roper scoring on the single by his older brother. Jason Goldstein then tied the game with a sacrifice fly and Sinclair was in position to get out of the inning, but Headley committed an error to put runners on first and second. The Huskers went to Jeff Chesnut out of the pen for his 30th appearance of the season and the junior right hander struck out Pat McInerney swinging to keep the game tied, 2-2, through six innings.
Placzek led off the seventh with a walk and was soon in scoring position for the top of NU’s lineup following a sacrifice bunt by Edrington. Duchene struck out Boldt for this third time and with two down the Illini went to right-handed reliever Nick Blackburn to face Jake Meyers. Nebraska countered with pinch-hitter Austin Darby and Blackburn won the battle with an inning-ending strikeout.
The Huskers had their leadoff man on in the seventh when Lubach started the frame with a single, his second hit of the game. Blackburn quickly cleared the bases with a double play off the bat of Alvarado, and then Headley lined out to Walton at shortstop to end the inning.
Illinois got their leadoff man on in the bottom of the eighth with an infield single by Reid Roper and he later scored to put Illinois ahead 3-2 on a single by McInerney. After Goldstein laid down a sacrifice to put two runners in scoring position, the Huskers loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Fletcher. McInerney delivered a single that found its way through the right side of the infield to give Illini the lead. David Kerian and Will Krug then grounded out to end the inning.
Facing the bottom of NU’s lineup, Jay needed just seven pitches to polish off the comeback win for Illinois.
Nebraska returns to Target Field tomorrow for an elimination game against 1 p.m. The Huskers will play the loser of tonight’s 9 p.m. game between Michigan State and Maryland. Tomorrow’s game will be streamed liver on BTN Plus.