It comes down to this. If Nebraska wins against Penn State on Saturday, the Huskers will lock up the Big Ten regular-season baseball title and be the top seed in the conference tournament, which begins on Wednesday in Bloomington, Indiana.
If Nebraska loses . . . well, the Huskers will finish the regular season either second or third, depending on whether Michigan wins or loses at Michigan State on Saturday.
The Wolverines would be in position to take the title if the Huskers falter. If Michigan and Nebraska were both to lose on Saturday, Minnesota would be the Big Ten champ.
But Nebraska needn’t concern itself with who’s second and who’s third if it takes care of business at Penn State, as it did on Friday, defeating the Nittany Lions 3-1.
Unlike Thursday night, the Huskers didn’t melt down at the end, though there were some anxious moments. Penn State scored a run in the bottom of the eighth to cut the lead to 2-1, and had the tying run on base before Luis Alvarado came in to get the third out, by strikeout.
Even then the drama wasn’t over, though. Alvarado’s home run in the top of the ninth made the margin two runs again. But in the bottom of the ninth the Nittany Lions had two runners on, by an error and a walk, with one out before Alvarado got the final two outs to earn his 10th save.
Nebraska scored single runs in the fifth and seventh, both by Alvarado and both driven in by Jake Schleppenbach. Alvarado led off the fifth with a double, advanced to third on Jesse Wilkening’s fly-out and scored on Schleppenbach’s single. Then Alvarado walked to lead off the seventh, stole second and, after Wilkening struck out, again scored on a Schleppenbach single.
Ben Miller also had two of the Huskers’ eight hits.
Alvarado was Nebraska’s third pitcher. Starter Derek Burkamper worked five scoreless innings to earn his sixth victory. He gave way to Jake McSteen after allowing a sixth hit to open the sixth.
Burkamper has allowed only two earned runs in his last four starts, 24 innings.
Jake Meyers, who again led off and played center field, will pitch for the Huskers on Saturday. Penn State will counter with redshirt freshman right-hander Eric Mock (0-5, 6.53).
Nebraska’s situation is clearcut: win and be the Big Ten champion; lose and – never mind.