UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nebraska had a chance to control its own destiny for a Big Ten Conference title. Instead two errors in the ninth inning led to three Penn State runs as the hosts shocked the No. 23 Huskers 8-7 at Medlar Field on Thursday night.
Co-closer Chad Luensmann walked PSU’s No. 8 hitter to start the final frame, and a fielding error put another man on. Mason Nadeau guided an RBI double to left — a perfect relay throw gunned down another runner at home plate — before Nebraska coaxed a second out on a groundout. But with a Nittany Lion at third base in a 7-6 game, Braxton Giavedoni swatted a ball that bounced off the glove of first baseman Ben Miller to tie the contest. Nick Riotto then sent the sparse crowd home happy with a walk-off RBI double to right-center.
The meltdown doesn’t eliminate Nebraska (32-18-1, 14-7-1) from securing its first regular-season league title since 2005. Though the Huskers remain in second place in the standings, wins over last-place Penn State on Friday (5:30 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.) and two Minnesota losses in its series against Purdue would still earn the crown for the Big Red.
Big Ten-leading Minnesota trails the Boilermakers 5-2 in the seventh inning of a game suspended by a power outage Thursday. That game will be followed by a doubleheader in Minneapolis on Friday.
Nebraska had been 31-0 this spring when leading after eight innings and was 184-5 in six seasons under coach Darin Erstad.
“It’s a cruel game, man; this game will chew you up and spit you out,” Erstad said during his postgame radio interview. “For whatever reason, we’ve have a very solid defensive team and we didn’t take care of the baseball. That’s what you get.”
Nebraska committed a season-worst four errors. In addition to the two costly mistakes in the ninth, the Huskers allowed another unearned run in the eighth when Miller dropped the ball after fielding a grounder with two outs.
Erstad said co-closer Luis Alvarado wasn’t available to pitch Thursday because he wasn’t feeling well.
“I just feel really bad for the boys because they put a lot of effort into it, they were excited,” Erstad said. “And for whatever reason, it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Nebraska appeared to go ahead for good in the eighth inning when Angelo Altavilla produced a two-run double with two outs and Scott Schreiber followed with an RBI hit up the middle to put the visitors ahead 7-4.
But the Nittany Lions (18-35, 4-18) rallied en route to their third win over a top-40 RPI team in the last nine days (West Virginia, Indiana).
Jake Meyers — who finished 2 for 2 with three walks and four runs — immediately put a charge into the Huskers after not hitting or fielding at all last weekend with an injured left hand. The junior leadoff man pulled a 2-1 pitch over the wall in left to start the game for his first home run of the season and third of his career.
But Penn State quickly answered in the bottom of the frame against NU starter Jake Hohensee. A single and stolen base set up Braxton Giavedoni for a one-out RBI hit to right. Then Willie Burger blasted a two-run homer — his team-leading fifth — over the “410” sign in left-center field to give the hosts a 3-1 edge.
Coming off two consecutive rocky starts, Hohensee recovered from the long ball to retire 13 of 14 hitters — including 10 straight — with the only blemish an infield throwing error in the second inning. The right-hander left with one out in the fifth and 69 pitches after allowing two doubles, including an RBI two-bagger by Giavedoni that gave the Nittany Lions a 4-3 edge.
The Huskers worked back against PSU ace Sal Biasi, drawing harmless walks in each of the first four frames. But with the righty’s pitch count mounting, Mojo Hagge tripled to right-center with an out in the fifth and came home on a Meyers RBI single. After an Angelo Altavilla hit, Miller drove in Meyers on a grounder to right to tie the game 3-3.
Nebraska knotted the score at 4-4 in the seventh. Meyers led off with a walk, went to third on Altavilla’s single to right and touched home on Scott Schreiber’s groundout to the shortstop.
Robbie Palkert worked two innings in relief of Hohensee, allowing only the unearned run in the eighth. Luensmann’s three unearned runs in the ninth lowlighted the gut-punch finish.
“We’re going to have to flush this one pretty quickly,” Erstad said, “because we gotta get back on it (Friday).”