The No. 8 seed Nebraska baseball team (34-23) had a 7-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning on Thursday afternoon at Target Field, but the No. 5 seed Michigan State Spartans (34-22) exploded for six runs in the frame on its way to a 9-7 victory that eliminated the Huskers from the Big Ten Tournament.
The Huskers entered the game 28-1 on the year when leading after seven innings, but were unable improve to 29-1. Reliever Ben Miller took the mound in the eighth and gave up a walk to Brandon Hughes to start the frame. The bases were quickly loaded following singles by Chad Roskelly and Anthony Checky. Dan Durkin stepped in and Miller issued a four-pitch walk to plated a run. NU went to senior Josh Roeder and NU’s all-time saves leader came into a jam, the bases loaded and no out. With the tying runs on base and the top of MSU’s order coming to the plate, Roeder plated a run with just his third walk of the season before Ryan Krill delivered a grand slam that put the Spartans ahead, 9-7, it was Krill’s 13th homerun of the season.
MSU reliever Joe Mockbee worked the final 3.2 innings for the Spartans, including a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his sixth win of the season.
The loss ended the careers of seven Husker seniors, including Kyle Kubat, Chance Sinclair, Christian Cox, Austin Darby, Blake Headley, Tanner Lubach and Roeder. Kubat, who was winless in his past eight starts entering Thursday, left the game in line for the win with a 6-3 lead. Kubat was looking to become the 11th pitcher in school history to reach 20 career wins, but it wasn’t meant to be. In his 43rd career start, the fifth most in NU history, Kubat went 5.0 innings and allowed three runs on eight hits, while striking out three.
MSU starter Jeff Kinley lasted 4.1 innings in his fifth start of the season. The one-time closer for the Spartans this year allowed five runs on six this and two walks, but did notch six strikeouts.
Kubat retired the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the first before he hit Mark Weist. The HBP came back hurt on the very next pitch of the game, as Blaise Slater launched a two-run homer into the third deck in left field. Former Husker Ryan Richardson then ripped a single before Kubat got a pop out to end the inning.
Down 2-0, the Huskers cut MSU’s lead in half in the top of the second on two hits. Scott Schreiber started the inning with his fourth hit of the tournament and was soon in scoring position on a groundout by Headley. Miller then came through with a single that put runners on the corners and Jake Placzek drove in Schreiber with a sacrifice fly to left field. Darby worked a walk with two outs and Jake Meyers nearly came through with a two-out RBI, but Checky made a running catch in the left-field gap to end the frame.
The Spartans had their next scoring opportunity in the fourth when they had a runner on second with two outs after Checky was hit-by-pitch. Facing MSU’s No. 9 hitter, Kory Young, Kubat got an inning-ending ground ball to Headley at third, keeping MSU’s lead to 2-1.
After Kubat got out of the jam, NU’s offense went to work in the top of the fifth with five runs on five hits and two walks. Placzek got the inning started with a single and after Darby struck out, got himself in scoring position by stealing second base. Meyers then worked a walked and Luis Alvarado singled to load the bases for Jake Schleppenbach. The Lincoln native lined the first pitch he saw into right field for a game-tying RBI single. MSU went to lefty reliever Anthony Misiewicz to face Lubach and the junior walked in a run to put the Huskers ahead 3-2. The Spartans again made a call to the pen and right hander Walter Borkovich got Schreiber to foul out. With two out and the bases still loaded, Headley worked a full count before driving a two-RBI single into left field. Miller, the ninth batter of the inning, followed with a RBI single to push NU’s lead to 6-2. Placzek stepped in for his second at-bat of the inning with two runners in scoring position and Borkovich put an end to the bleeding with a strikeout.
Working with the lead for the first time all day, Kubat faced the top of MSU’s lineup in the bottom of the fifth. He retired the first two batters before giving up a single to Weist and then he hit Salter. Kubat dug in and got a 1-3 groundout from Richardson to keep NU’s four-run lead intact.
Kubat took the mound in the sixth but wouldn’t record an out, as he was replaced by Jeff Chesnut after giving up consecutive singles to start the inning. With runners on the corners, Chesnut got a 5-3 groundout of the bat of Checky, but the grounder was slow enough to score Hughes on the play. MSU went to pinch hitter, Durkin, who lined an infield single off of Chesnut to again put runners on the corners. With the top of the order up and one down, Cam Gibson came to the plate as the tying run. Gibson got a 3-1 hitters count, but Chesnut made the pitch he needed and got a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning with the Huskers ahead 6-3.
The Husker offense got the run back in the seventh with one hit and a pair of sacrifices. Schreiber led off the frame with his sixth hit of the tournament and with Headley up Schreiber took second on a wild pitch Mockbee. Headley then laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Schreiber to third and Miller drove him in with a sacrifice fly to deep right field that gave NU a 7-3 lead.
Colton Howell took the mound for NU in the eighth and gave up a one-out walk, but nothing else, and struck out Richardson to keep the Husker lead a 7-3 through seven.
With three runs on eight hits through the first seven innings, the Spartans scored six runs in the eighth on four hits and three walks to retake the lead for good.