LINCOLN — Nebraska’s dugout erupted at the ping of Jesse Wilkening’s bat. This could be the magic moment the team had been waiting for.
The ball flew deep to right field, where Logan Sowers had already made multiple acrobatic catches Sunday. A day earlier, the Indiana senior assisted a Wilkening home run when a liner bounced off his glove and into the bullpen.
But the walk-off blast the Huskers and a Haymarket Park crowd of 5,062 craved wasn’t to be. Wilkening’s drive with two on and two outs in the ninth inning settled into Sowers’ glove at the top of the wall, and Indiana held on to beat Nebraska 8-6 to put the Huskers’ postseason hopes on life support.
“Jesse, I mean that’s a home run and the guy basically robs it,” coach Darin Erstad said. “Just tough.”
Nebraska (23-26, 7-12 Big Ten) remains in 10th place in the league and is 1 ½ games behind Michigan State and Maryland for the eighth and final spot in the Big Ten tournament.
NU closes the regular season with three games at fourth-place Illinois beginning Thursday.
Indiana led 8-0 in the fifth inning after scoring two runs in four straight innings. Nebraska battled back to bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh and eighth before Wilkening’s shot fell short in the ninth. NU stranded 14 runners in all and was 4 for 18 (.222) with runners in scoring position.
“Boys don’t quit, just keep fighting,” Erstad said. “It’s tough there. Had a chance — had a lot of chances — and just couldn’t get that big hit.”
The Hoosiers (33-15, 11-9) knocked out senior starter Matt Warren in the third inning on Senior Day. No. 9 hitter Jeremy Houston, who came into the game batting .204, rapped a two-run triple to right in the second. Sowers added an RBI single in the third to chase Warren, and Drew Ashley greeted reliever Andrew Abrahamowicz with a squeeze bunt that plated another run.
Two more RBI hits, a sacrifice fly and Sowers’ homer off Nate Fisher added up to an 8-0 lead in the fifth. Nebraska broke the shutout in the bottom half on a checked-swing RBI groundout by pinch hitter Zac Luckey, then added two more an inning later on Mojo Hagge’s hit and Scott Schreiber’s sacrifice fly.
The Huskers brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh after Angelo Altavilla dropped a two-run single just inside the right-field line to cut Indiana’s lead to 8-5, but pinch hitter Joe Acker struck out with two on. NU again had a chance to tie in the eighth after Schreiber and Luckey singled, but the Huskers closed with a pair of flyouts.
Closer Jake Hohensee kept the game close with a season-high 2 2⁄3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out six. The senior was among those celebrating momentarily as Wilkening’s drive sailed to deep right after Schreiber drove in a run with a two-out flare.
“We all thought it was gone because we’ve seen it plenty of times this weekend, last weekend and everything,” Hohensee said. “He hit it hard. He’s been hurting that guy out in right field. He kind of gave Jesse one (Saturday) so it seems like kind of a payback.”
Left-hander Tim Herrin (4-0) allowed one run in five innings to earn the win. His relievers added some drama — five runs in the final four innings — before the Hoosiers could celebrate their first series win over Nebraska since 2013.
Erstad said his pitchers couldn’t put away Hoosier hitters, who frequently fouled off balls before putting something in play. He added that Hohensee brought a confidence to the team late and that bullpen injuries again caught up to the Huskers in the series.
“We got other guys that are on the shelf that we feel the same way about,” Erstad said. “It would have been fun to see what that would have looked like, but sometimes you don’t get what you want. We gotta wear it and figure out where to go.”