Illini Drop Finale on Nebraska Walk-Off in 10th, 7-4

Freshman Ryne Roper hit his first career home run in the finale against Nebraska.
Freshman Ryne Roper hit his first career home run in the finale against Nebraska.

May 17, 2014

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LINCOLN, Neb. - Illinois led 4-2 after five innings, but Nebraska tied it on a controversial balk in the sixth and hit a walk-off three-run homer to steal the finale in the 10th, 7-4. The Illini (31-19) finished in third place in the Big Ten at 17-7 after dropping the series to the Huskers (37-18), who placed second in the conference at 18-6. UI will be the No. 3 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament.

"It was a tough one to swallow," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "Our kids did a lot of things well, but that's the way baseball goes sometimes. We had opportunities to push even more across, but we just need to shake this one off and move forward."

Illinois scored in each of the first three innings to grab an early 3-0 lead. Junior Will Krug found the gap with a leadoff double and later scored following two groundouts with junior David Kerian bringing him home. Freshman Ryne Roper drilled his first career homer with a solo shot in the second. Sophomore Adam Walton tripled to the gap in right to lead off the third and came home on Krug's sacrifice fly.

Nebraska answered with a run in the third on a two-out RBI double and a solo homer in the fourth to get back within one at 3-2.

The Illini crossed home for the fourth time in the first five innings with another RBI groundout in the fifth. Sophomore Ryan Nagle doubled down the left field line to knock out Nebraska starter Kyle Kubat. After a strikeout, Krug beat out an infield single to place runners on the corners. Redshirt-junior Kelly Norris-Jones gave Illinois a 4-2 advantage when Nagle stepped on the plate on his grounder to short.

Starter John Kravetz breezed through a perfect fifth, but faced adversity in the sixth. A two-out walk put runners on first and second. Tanner Lubach connected on an RBI single to make it 4-3 and put runners on the corners, forcing a pitching change by the Illini.

Sophomore Tyler Jay entered the game and worked a 2-2 count against Ben Miller. On a controversial call, Jay was charged with a balk that allowed the tying run to score. Austin Darby started to sprint toward home as Jay came set. Jay quickly stepped off and fired home but was called for his first balk of the year. The Lemont, Illinois, native struck out Miller to end the inning.

The Orange and Blue had a chance to take the lead with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh. The Huskers threw out Nagle at home on a grounder to third to keep the game tied followed by a groundout that finished the frame.

After a leadoff single in the seventh, Jay retired nine consecutive batters to send the game to extra innings, as the Illini also were unable to score.

In the bottom of the 10th, a one-out walk and single by the Huskers set up Pat Kelly for the walk-off win with a homer over the left field wall. Jay suffered his first loss of the season and dropped to 4-1.

Up Next: Illinois will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and square off against the No. 6 seed Michigan State in the opening game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 21 at 9 a.m.

Game Notes
1. Illinois finished in the top three in the Big Ten for the second time under ninth-year head coach Dan Hartleb. It is the first time the Illini placed third in the conference under Hartleb and marks the second-best finish behind the 2011 Big Ten Championship.

2. UI finished with its best Big Ten record at 17-7 during the conference's 24-game schedule era, which began in 2009. It marks the most conference wins under Hartleb, with the previous best mark being 16.

3. Illinois' 10-2 mark on the road in Big Ten games is its best during the 24-game conference schedule, bettering the mark from 2009 (9-3).

4. The Illini set school records in Big Ten play (24-game schedule) for ERA (3.54), eclipsing their previous mark of 4.16 from 2013, and strikeouts (157), surpassing their mark of 135 from 2013. The 157 strikeouts also rank as the most punch outs in any Big Ten season, topping the previous mark of 155 during a 32-game season in 1997.

5. Illinois dropped to 3-2 in extra-inning games. The Illini went to extras in both their first and final games of the regular season, suffering the loss in both contests.

6. Freshman Ryne Roper hit his first career home run, becoming the third Illini to do so in the last four games. Junior Will Krug went deep for the first time at Iowa (5/11) and sophomore Adam Walton left the park at Nebraska (5/16).