Nebraska came into Friday's game with a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament with a victory, but Illinois wasn't going to concede that designation so easily.
The Illini completely handcuffed Nebraska's offense and the Huskers, previously undefeated in the month of May, never mounted any real threats in their 5-1 loss.
The defeat drops NU to 36-18 overall and 17-6 in the Big Ten and leaves Saturday's series finale as the determining factor in whether the Huskers or Illini get the conference's second seed.
"We'll all be on the same page tomorrow ready to go," Darin Erstad said. "This team has been through a lot. They're playing very well. Today wasn't one of our better days, but that's the great thing about baseball - you've got another game tomorrow."
Illinois' pitching has given Nebraska's offense major issues in the first two games of the series. The Huskers won 2-1 Thursday, but mustered only five hits and scored on two solo home runs. NU's lone run Friday again came via the solo shot, as first baseman Blake Headley found the right field seats in the second inning.
But the offense dried up after that as Illinois pitcher Kevin Duchene retired the next 14 batters he faced. That streak was broken on a leadoff single by Michael Pritchard in the seventh. Pat Kelly followed with a single and Tanner Lubach walked to load the bases, but Headley, Steven Reveles and Austin Darby all struck out to end the threat.
Nebraska had just five base runners in the game and is hitting .155 in the series so far.
"We talk about putting our best swings on pitches and we're not doing that," Erstad said. "A big part of that is their pitching but at the same time, we have to do a better job in our approach. We got outside of our approach the last couple of days and we're going to need to be pretty solid tomorrow to win the series."
For a few innings, it appeared Aaron Bummer would be able to survive the lack of offensive production, but things got away from him in the fifth. After a leadoff single, Adam Walton hit his first home run of the year to give Illinois the lead for good. Two more singles brought in another run, and although Bummer stranded two men in scoring position, the damage was done.
"He might have gotten up a little bit, but it's one of those things - they either hit them at you or they don't," Erstad said. "And they didn't hit them at us."
Both Colton Howell and Jake Hohensee gave up a run in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, before Austin Christensen pitched two scoreless frames.
Erstad wasn't happy with his team's approach to the game, but he isn't the least bit worried about any outside pressure or tournament seeding affecting the Huskers' chances Saturday.
"It doesn't matter what game it is," Erstad said. "You go out and play it. Those are outside things that we don't worry about. We just go out and play our game and see what happens."
Around the horn
***Spanning between the two games, Nebraska retired 22 batters in a row. Chance Sinclair and Zach Hirsch sent down the final 17 batters in Friday's game, and Bummer retired the first five Friday before a two-out single in the second.
***Pritchard now has 240 career hits, tying him with Alex Gordon for 11th most in school history.
***This is only the second series Nebraska hit at least three home runs in. NU also hit three long balls in a sweep over Penn State.
***The Huskers are now 10-5 in night games, compared to 26-13 in day games.
***The attendance was 4,549.