Illini Rebound with 5-1 Win over #28 Nebraska
May 16, 2014
LINCOLN, Neb. - Sophomore Kevin Duchene looked back to his old form on Friday night, helping Illinois even the series with Nebraska and move back into a tie for second place in the Big Ten with a 5-1 victory. Duchene (3-1) earned his first win since March 14 and retired 14 in a row at one point while only allowing one run in six innings. Sophomore Adam Walton went 3-for-4 and belted his first career home run to put the Illini in front.
"That was the old Kevin Duchene," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "That is what we think he is capable of doing on a regular basis. It was his third time back and he said he felt good. He looked very sharp."
Illinois (31-18) earned its best Big Ten record under Hartleb at 17-6, marking the most conference wins for Illinois since 2005 (20). The Illini improved to 10-1 on the road in Big Ten play this year, setting up the rubber game on Saturday at Hawks Field. Tomorrow's winner will earn the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Nebraska smacked its third solo home run of the series to take a 1-0 lead in the second inning, which proved to be the only mistake made by Duchene.
Junior Casey Fletcher increased his team-leading hitting streak to seven games in the second, registering the first Illini hit for the second day in a row. Walton knocked the first UI extra-base hit of the series in the third but was left there. The Illini notched a pair of singles in the fourth but couldn't get anything more going.
The bats came alive in the fifth inning, as the Illini grabbed their first lead of the series with three runs. Sophomore Ryan Nagle started the stanza with a single up the middle. Walton then deposited his first career home run with a two-run shot over the left field wall. After junior Will Krug reached on a bunt and was sacrificed to second, junior David Kerian knocked him in with a single to center, making it 3-1.
"Offensively, we made a big adjustment from last night, so I'm really pleased with that group," Hartleb said. "We got one big hit then started smoking the ball around the park. The big hit came from Adam Walton. He drove that ball and we were able to tack a few on after that."
Nebraska starter Aaron Bummer was replaced in the sixth but Walton's stellar night continued with a two-out single. The Buffalo Grove, Illinois, native swiped second and scored on Krug's RBI single through the right side, extending Illinois' lead to 4-1.
After another NU pitching change in the seventh, Illinois tacked on another run for a 5-1 advantage. Kerian walked followed by a single from sophomore Jason Goldstein and an RBI knock up the middle by redshirt-junior Reid Roper.
After allowing the solo homer in the second, Duchene sat down 14 straight before allowing a pair of singles in the seventh. Senior Ronnie Muck came on in relief and walked the first batter he faced. The Park Ridge, Illinois, native escaped the jam with three straight strikeouts.
Muck kept the Huskers at bay again with a 1-2-3 eighth and retired the final nine batters he faced, closing out his third inning of work and his third save with a perfect ninth.
"Ronnie was really, really impressive tonight," Hartleb said. "He walked the bases loaded and was able to get out of it with the three big strikeouts. That kind of sealed the deal for us."
After only collecting three hits in the opener, Illinois out-hit the Huskers 12-4 in game two. Walton led the way with three hits, while the middle of the order each had two base knocks in Kerian, Goldstein and Reid Roper.
Up Next: Illinois will go for the series victory against Nebraska on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. Junior John Kravetz (6-1, 2.88 ERA) will toe the rubber against Kyle Kubat (4-2, 4.84 ERA).