There was a series deciding Game 3 at Haymarket Park on Sunday and Nebraska went at it with Illinois for one last game with a lot on the line.
The Huskers came into the weekend series in a tight race for first place in the Big Ten. With every team so close, each and every game is important down the stretch. On the other side, Illinois was fighting to solidify a spot in Omaha for the conference tournament. It was a series that was full of emotion and Game 3 was a wild conclusion.
Reece Eddins was the starting pitcher for the Huskers and showed good command, but Illinois jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the fourth inning thanks to a two run homer. The Illini then led 4-0 in the sixth before Nebraska responded with one run.
The sixth inning was full of missed opportunities, as Nebraska went down looking on two strikeouts and left runners in scoring position. The inning concluded with Joe Acker getting thrown out when he fell down rounding third base.
The seventh inning looked like it was going to bring another sequence of disappointment. Nebraska found a way to load the bases with two outs when Acker (who is still the man of the weekend) stepped up to deliver a 2 RBI single. Cam Chick was the very next batter and he brought in the tying run with an RBI single.
The scoreboard was quiet in the eighth, so the teams entered the ninth inning tied at four. Colby Gomes was brought in to close and did a nice job of getting two outs. Things were looking good for the Huskers until Illinois hit a deep shot to center that brought in two runs. That ultimately was enough for the Illini to win the game and the series. Nebraska rallied in the bottom of the ninth to score one run, but ultimately fell by a final score of 6-5.
This one hurts for Nebraska. It was another conference loss that was decided by one run and will make the path to a Big Ten championship much more challenging. The Huskers will travel to Northwestern next weekend before concluding conference play at home with Michigan.
Let’s look at three takeaways from the series with Illinois.
It was mentioned earlier, but Nebraska is going to look back and see plenty of missed opportunities. The Huskers left 31 runners on base through three games. In Game 3 when it mattered the most, the Huskers left 11 on base and had a nightmare sixth inning.
The pitching wasn't as good as it has been for Nebraska either, but the bottom line is that the offense has not come through as of late. Nebraska actually out-hit the Illini on Sunday, but was not able to convert.
The starting lineup continues to shuffle for Nebraska as it searches for consistency. If Nebraska wants to contend for a championship, it is going to have to find a way to score runners when it matters.
Two Straight Conference Series Losses
The Huskers have gone 1-2 in the last two conference series and they were similar statistically. In each series Nebraska was blown out, lost by one run and won a game. The team walked away from both series thinking they should’ve won.
The consistency is not there right now and it needs to start with the bats. Pitching hasn't been great, but it has been good enough to win games. Going forward, Nebraska has to believe it can win with its starting pitchers if the bats pick up.
Big Ten Race
The Huskers made it a lot harder on themselves, but they are still in position to make some noise down the stretch. It was almost essential for Nebraska to win the Illinois series if they wanted a realistic shot so this weekend did not help.
Now Nebraska will likely need to go 5-1 or 6-0 down the stretch of conference play with some help to win the league. It will be a fun race to follow, but the hill got much steeper for the Huskers.