After dropping a 10-9 heartbreaker on Wednesday afternoon to Michigan State, the Nebraska baseball team (35-22, 14-10 Big Ten) responded with 12-3 victory over Penn State on Thursday afternoon at Huntington Park to knock the Nittany Lions out of 2012 Big Ten Baseball Tournament.
Junior Ryan Hander threw a gem for the Huskers, as the righty gave up just two earned runs over a career-high 6.1 innings of work, while striking out a career-high seven. After getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the third, Hander retired seven straight Nittany Lions and faced just nine combined hitters in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
NU’s offensive racked up 18 hits on the day, including a 4-for-5 performance and a career-high five RBI’s from freshman Pat Kelly, as well as three hits each from Rich Sanguinetti and Richard Stock, who produced his 18th and 19th doubles of the season. Chad Christensen also blasted his team-leading 10th home run of the season with two outs in the top of the seventh.
After not getting a hit until the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday against Michigan State, Stock extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a leadoff single in the top of the second. Along with Michael Prichard’s 25-game hitting streak earlier this season, it marks the first time in school history that a pair of teammates have each produced hitting streaks of 20 game or more in the same season. Pritchard’s streak is the third-longest streak in school history and Stocks is tied with Jeff Hedman (1998) and John Cole (2001) for the sixth longest streak.
PSU starter Steven Hill retired the Huskers in order in the top of the first and Sean Deegan put the Nittany Lions up 1-0 with his 12th home run of the season on the second pitch he saw to lead off the bottom of the frame. Hander stayed composed and retired the next three PSU batters he faced, including consecutive strikeouts to end the inning.
Hander struck out his third straight Nittany Lion to start the bottom of the second inning, but then gave up a single and a double to put runners on second and third with one out. PSU was unable to get a clutch hit though, as Hander got consecutive ground outs to end the inning without any damage.
Hander started the third with his fourth strikeout of the game before Steve Snyder singled and stole second. Hander then struck out Joey DeBernardis, before the Huskers intentionally walked Jordan Steranka and Hander walked Aaron Novak to load the bases with two out. Once again though, Hander dug in and got Luis Montesinos to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning with no runs scored.
The Huskers carried the momentum started by Hander into the top of the fourth and tied the game, 1-1, on two hits. Stock improved to 2-for-2 on the day with a leadoff double that landed on the left-field line. Stock moved to third on a ground out by Josh Scheffert to second base and scored on a base knock by Kelly into left-center field.
NU’s offensive kept up the pressure in the fifth and took the lead for good after Hander sent the Nittany Lions down in order in the bottom of the fourth. Pritchard and Rich Sanguinetti started the fifth with back-to-back singles, the first time all game NU had strung together consecutive hits. Christensen then laid down a sacrifice that really paid off, as third baseman Matt Paradise threw the ball into foul territory down the right-field line, which allowed Pritchard to score and Sanguinetti moved to third while Christensen coasted into second with no out. Stock followed with a deep sacrifice fly that scored Sanguinetti and Scheffert roped a single to score Christensen. Hill lasted just one more batter, as Kelly stroked a single that ended the starter’s day with just 4.1 innings in the book. Reliever Cody Lewis came in and stopped the bleeding by striking out Austin Darby and getting Kale Kiser to fly out.
Hander kept dealing for the Huskers in the fifth, as he sent the top of PSU’s order down in order, including a his sixth and seventh strikeouts of the game.
NU’s offensive went right back to work and blew the game open with five runs on seven hits, including three straight bunt singles to start the sixth. With the bases loaded and no outs following bunts by Cory Burleson, Pritchard and Sanguinetti, PSU brought in John Walter for his first relief appearance of the season after 14 starts on the year. Christensen dropped an RBI single into right field and Stock followed with his second double of the game that scored two runs. Following a strikeout by Scheffert, Kelly laced his third single of the day to score both Christensen and Stock to put the Huskers up 9-1.
Walter came back in the top of the seventh and got the first two Huskers he faced, but Christensen made sure the Huskers scored for the fourth straight inning with a moon shot that landed behind the bleachers in left field. Stock then drew a two-out walk and Scheffert singled, both were soon in scoring position following a wild pitch, that proved costly, as Kelly came through with his fourth single of the day to score two and put NU up 12-1.
Penn State finally knocked Hander out of the game in the bottom of the seventh, but Tyler Niederklein came in struck out two straight Nittany Lions to end the inning with NU up 12-2. Niederklein then pitched a scoreless eighth and freshman Jeff Stovall took the mound in the ninth. PSU was able to score one more run on a dropped fly ball in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.
The Huskers will be back at Huntington Park tomorrow at 11:05 a.m. (CT) for the third straight day. NU will not know its opponent until both winner’s bracket games are completed. No. 6 Ohio State takes on No. 1 Purdue, while No. 5 Michigan State is set to take on No. 2 Indiana.