CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois erupted for 12 runs in the middle three innings and blasted Nebraska 13-6 as the Huskers’ postseason hopes officially ended Friday evening.
NU was eliminated from participation in the eight-team Big Ten tournament in the midst of its walloping when Michigan State topped Ohio State 6-2.
Nebraska plays its season finale at 3 p.m. Saturday and is guaranteed to finish 10th in the 13-team league.
“Just no way around it — a tough year, we haven’t played very well and it got ugly,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said during his postgame radio interview. “But you have to take the good with the bad, and that’s part of this game.”
Nebraska (23-28, 7-14) will finish with a losing record for the fifth time in 42 years and the first since 2013. A loss Saturday would secure its second-worst winning percentage since 1975.
Angelo Altavilla tied the game 1-1 for NU in the second inning with his fifth home run of the spring, and Jesse Wilkening went deep in the eighth for his ninth homer. But scoring chances were otherwise scarce against Illinois left-handed starter Andy Fisher, who struck out six in six innings, and a host of relievers until NU batted around for five runs in the eighth to draw within 13-6.
The Illini (31-17, 15-8) pounded Nebraska for 15 hits and pulled away beginning with a five-run fourth that made it 6-1. Zac Taylor swatted a two-run homer and Bren Spillane went deep for the 21st time this season. Every Illini starter had at least one hit, and nine players scored at least one run.
In his final Nebraska start, senior righty Luis Alvarado allowed six runs (four earned) in 3 2⁄3 innings. Relievers Reece Eddins (1 1⁄3 innings, three runs) and Paul Tillotson (one inning, four runs) also suffered rough appearances before Ethan Frazier closed with a pair of scoreless innings.
“(Alvarado’s) velocity just dropped 5 mph,” Erstad said. “I don’t know if he got tired or what the deal was but I’m not going to keep him out there when he’s doing that. He came out of the game and the wheels kind of fell off.”
The Huskers end 1-6-1 in Big Ten series after winning the regular-season league crown a year ago. Erstad said the team will compete with pride Saturday and empty its bench for the final contest of the spring.
“You have to play hard regardless of what’s going on,” Erstad said. “Now is it very difficult to do that when you’ve been getting your butt kicked and you know the game doesn’t mean anything from whether they go any farther? We have some seniors that it’s the last time they’ll probably ever play baseball. It’s an eye-opener when that day comes.”