Another offensive explosion gives Huskers elusive Big Ten tourney win
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - On a night when things could’ve gotten sloppy, Nebraska saw the worst of it early on. But on a rain soaked night at Indiana’s Bart Kaufman Field, the Husker bats continued their resilience.
That bounce back came to the tune of 13 hits - including six doubles - and gave top-seeded Nebraska a 15-9 win over Purdue Wednesday for the program’s first Big Ten tournament victory since 2014. The 15-run effort pushed the Huskers’ total to 36 runs over the past two games, their highest two-game sum since entering the Big Ten in 2012.
After the Boilermakers closed to an 11-8 gap in the top of the eighth, Nebraska (35-18-1, 1-0 Big Ten tourney) hit a pair of two-run homers in the bottom frame to erase any hope of a comeback.
Right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee picked up the win by locking things down after a tough second inning. The Huskers got out to an early 4-0 lead after their first trip to the plate, but Hohensee struggled in the next frame, giving up five runs on six hits to spot Purdue a 5-4 lead.
But the Husker junior responded, retiring the next seven batters and striking out the side of the fourth inning. He let go of a solo homer in the fifth but worked around it to retire five of the final six hitters he faced, keeping the Boilermaker offense down and allowing Nebraska to build an 11-6 advantage over the next three innings.
“Well he’s getting some practice at it, that’s probably not a good thing,” head coach Darin Erstad said of Hohensee’s resilient tendencies. “But he’s just a grinder. He finds a way to keep us in the game.
“All we ask of our starters is to give us a chance to win. Even if he gives up a few runs, he finds his way into the fifth or the sixth and that’s huge. It helps you set up your bullpen, and not just for tonight, but for the rest of the tournament.”
The offense provided the support in the middle innings to give Hohensee his seventh win. In the third inning, senior first baseman Ben Miller ripped a double into the right field corner to score Scott Schreiber from first. Three batters later, Jesse Wilkening singled to right center to score Miller from second and help the Huskers retake the lead.
Miller added another of his three RBIs in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk and Nebraska extended the lead to 8-5 on a Luis Alvarado sacrifice fly later in the inning. After Purdue’s solo shot in the top of the fifth, the Huskers put together their most complete frame of the night, scoring runs on three straight plays, including back-to-back RBIs from Schreiber and Miller.
“1 through 9, we’ve been swinging it pretty well,” Miller said. “Everyone has been swinging it well, and if they’re not, somebody else is picking them up. It’s kind of the mentality you need to have in the postseason, and we’ve been lucky enough to score runs."
For as consistent as Nebraska was on the offensive side, Purdue refused to go quietly. A single and a fielder’s choice left a runner on first with one out in the top of the eighth, and on a 1-2 count, Boiler slugger Alec Olund ripped a ball into deep right field, being carried by a swift wind.
But freshman Mojo Hagge made one of the plays he’s become well-known for, stretching all 5’7” of his frame over the right field wall to make a home run-robbing catch. The web gem prevented a two-run shot that would’ve cut the lead to 11-9.
To complete the narrative with a moment of fantastic irony, Hagge stepped to the plate in the very next frame and smashed his first career home run to the exact spot he made the catch.
“Going up in the next inning, Coach (Mike) Kirby told me after you make a play like that, you have to get a swing off,” Hagge said. “When I got to a plus count, 2-0, I got a good pitch to hit and I just stayed through it.”
Hagge’s blast, along with Schreiber’s two-run dinger later in the inning, extended Nebraska’s lead to 15-8, making the deficit insurmountable for Purdue.
After the 3 hour, 27 minute game, Nebraska will get the day off Thursday after a weather delay and a preset curfew ended the day without Maryland and Iowa being able to play.
Now in the winner’s bracket, the Huskers will play the winner of the Terrapins-Hawkeyes matchup on Friday. Game time is still to be determined.