Illini Win Streak Continues In Big Ten Tourney, 3-2 Over Nebraska

May 21, 2015
 
Illini Pat McInerney hits an RBI single off Nebraska pitcher Colton Howell during the eighth inning of Wednesday's first-round NCAA Big Ten tournament win in Minneapolis.

Illinois' Pat McInerney (27) hits an RBI single off Nebraska pitcher Colton Howell (25) during the eighth inning of Wednesday's first-round NCAA Big Ten tournament college baseball game in Minneapolis. Illinois won 3-2.

(AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

The top-ranked Illini opened the conference tournament Wednesday with a 3-2 win over Nebraska at Minnesota’s Target Field.  The victory sets a new Big Ten Conference Record for consecutive victories with 27.

Designated Hitter Pat McInerney’s eighth inning infield single with the bases full drove in the go-ahead run. 

"I was just trying to remain calm, with the bases loaded," he said.  "I was trying to put the ball in play.  I didn't hit it as hard I could, but I'll take it."

The Cornhuskers had taken a  2-0 lead in the sixth.  The Illini quickly answered with two of their own in the bottom of the inning.

Illini Coach Dan Hartleb says his squad truly defines the concept of ‘team.'

“It’s not one person," he said.  "It’s somebody new every day.  Guys have confidence in each other, and there’s not a guy on the team who feels like he has to carry anybody.  Like tonight, we got punched in the mouth in the 6th inning, we turn around, we answer in the bottom, and we find a way to get it done in the bottom, and find a way to get it done in the 8th.  It’s a great group, because of their mentality.”

Illini closer Tyler Jay needed just seven pitches to finish off Nebraska in the 9th inning, and said it served to his advantage having seen Nebraska three times in the last week.  Illinois beat the Cornhuskers last Thursday and Friday to close out the regular season.

“I think that we just go to the ballpark expecting to win," Jay said.  "We’ve been down – I couldn’t tell you the stat of how many games we’ve been down to start off the first inning even – and we just go out there, battle, compete, and end up being on top every time.”

“You know, I’ve been saying it all year long," said starting pitcher Kevin Duchene.  "This is the most fun I’ve had playing baseball my entire life.”

Illinois’ 46-win total ties the 1985 team for the second most victories – the record is 49, set in 1982. 

The Illini will take on 4th seeded Maryland, who beat Michigan State Wednesday in the late game 2-1.  The first pitch is scheduled for 9 p.m., and the game will be carried on the Big Ten Network.

Story source: WILL