Huskers clinch spot in B1G tourney, retake 1st place with series-tying win
LINCOLN, Neb. - Senior pitcher Derek Burkamper didn’t allow an earned run over 7.0 innings in his last start at Haymarket Park as the Husker offense compiled timely runs to defeat Michigan State 5-2 and tie the series heading into Sunday.
With the win, Nebraska (31-17-1, 13-6-1) is the second team to clinch a berth in the eight-team Big Ten tournament after Maryland clinched yesterday. The Huskers now sit atop the conference standings after the Terrapins’ 11-3 home loss to Northwestern.
For just the sixth time this season, the Huskers climbed out of a hole after Michigan State started the scoring with unearned runs in the third and fifth innings. The Huskers played from behind most of the way on a sunny afternoon in Lincoln.
When it looked as if Nebraska would take the early lead in the second, Jesse Wilkening grounded into a rare 5-4-3 triple play with the bases loaded, retiring the side on one swing.
“That was probably the first one I’ve ever seen done against us,” said senior first baseman Ben Miller, referencing the first triple play turned against the Huskers since April of 2005. “Not getting any runs there in the second inning was tough, but we kept with it and found a way to get runs in the eighth.”
With the momentum from the triple play and a throwing error by the Huskers, Michigan State (27-20, 9-11) would start the scoring in the next frame with an RBI double by Bryce Kelly that scored Zack McGuire on an unearned run.
In the fifth, MSU would benefit from another error by the Husker infield, following that with a sacrifice fly by Chad Roskelly that scored McGuire again. With Nebraska filibustering at the plate, it seemed like the triple play and the absence of All-American Jake Meyers would cost the Huskers a series on Saturday afternoon.
But after Burkamper retired the top half of the sixth, the Husker bats finally got going against MSU starter Jake Lowery. Singles from leadoff hitter Angelo Altavilla, freshman Mojo Hagge, and cleanup hitter Scott Schreiber gave the Huskers a run and two baserunners in the inning.
After fouling off a pitch on a 1-2 count, Miller ripped a double down the right field line, scoring Hagge and Schreiber and giving the Huskers a lead they would never relinquish.
Operating with a lead, Burkamper would put together his best frame of the afternoon in his last, retiring the Spartans 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh.
“I just wanted to continue doing what’s been working,” said Burkamper, who finished the day allowing no earned runs on five hits, striking out three. “Obviously, I wanted to go out with a bang here, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Nebraska would add some insurance in the eighth, loading the bases with no outs before a five-pitch walk by Brison Cronenbold plated Hagge, who led off the inning with a double to the left field wall. Luis Alvarado would follow that with a sacrifice RBI to center, scoring Schreiber and extending the Huskers’ lead to 5-2 with three outs left in the game.
Alvarado came out to pitch the ninth, but found himself in a jam with the bases loaded and one out. But after working to a full count with the tying run on first, the junior pitcher forced a swing on a dead ball strikeout. On the very next pitch, Michigan State second baseman Dan Durkin flied out to deep left to end it.
“He’s bound to have a couple times where it’s not perfect and you have to fight through things, and that’s what he did,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said of Alvarado, who picked up his ninth save. “He’s really matured as a person since he’s been here, being able to keep his motions in control.
“This conference is no joke, man. That team (Michigan State) is a regional team; that team could win a regional. They’ve got some big time arms and they grind. I’m very impressed.”
The Huskers will take on the Spartans in Sunday’s rubber match, for which scheduled pitcher Jake Meyers is a game-time decision due to a hand injury.
“We’ll see how he is in the morning,” Erstad said. “We’ll see how (his stitches) hold together and plan on starting him and see how he goes step-by-step.
"Meyers Watch 2017.”
First pitch on Senior Day at Haymarket Park is set for 12:05 p.m.