The Nebraska baseball team (34-21, 14-10 Big Ten) secured the No. 4 seed at next week's Big Ten Tournament with a 7-3 win over the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday afternoon at Wilpon Complex. The Huskers will face the Michigan State Spartans, who also won on Saturday, but finished the year one-game behind Nebraska in the conference standing.
With just one conference start under his belt, senior Dexter Spitsnogle put together his best game as a Husker, but didn't factor into the decision. The righty from Odell, Neb., went a career-high 6.2 innings and struck out a career-high six, but wild pitch on a strikeout with two down in the bottom of the seventh spoiled the senior's day. Dylan Delaney reached and Michigan followed with three straight hits to take a 3-2 lead after Spitsnogle had pitched a shutout over the first six innings.
Tom Lemke earned the win for NU with 2.1 innings of shutout relief, as the junior gave up two hits and no walks, while striking out three.
After Michigan starter Ben Ballantine sent the Huskers down in order in the first, Richard Stock got the NU bats going with a leadoff home run in the second off the scoreboard behind the right-field wall. The solo shot extended Stock's hitting streak to 18 games, which is the second longest streak by a Husker this season and ties Stock with Jed Morris (2002) and Joe Simokaitis (2005) for the 11th-longest hitting streak in school history since 1958. Michael Pritchard's 25-game hitting streak earlier this season ranks third all-time at NU.
Nebraska pushed its lead to 2-0 in the top of the third with a pair of infield singles. With runners at the corners and one down, Pritchard laid down a bunt single that scored Kale Kiser from third, who reached earlier on a one-out walk. NU then loaded the bases with one down for Stock, but Ballantine got 6-4-3 double play to avoid any further damage.
With just two singles off Spitsnogle through the first three innings, the Wolverines gained some momentum with a two-out double by Brett Winger. Spitsnogle then issued back-to-back walks, his first two of the game, to load the bases. The senior righty stayed composed and got pinch hitter John DiLaura to ground out to Pat Kelly at second to end Wolverines' chance at a big inning.
Spitsnogle retired eight of the next nine Wolverines he faced and looked to have a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh, but Delany reached on a wild pitch after swinging at strike three. Pat Biondi followed with a single, before John Lorenz tied the game with a triple into the left-field gap, which prompted Head Coach Darin Erstad to bring in Lemke from the bullpen. Lorenz then scored to put Michigan ahead, 3-2, on a double by Michael O'Neill that landed just inside the left-field line.
NU's offense responded in the top of the eight with three runs on three hits and one Michigan error. Pritchard opened the frame with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Chad Christensen. Stock then tied the game, 3-3, with a deep sacrifice fly to right center that easily scored Pritchard. Josh Scheffert followed with a two-out walk and went first-to-third on a single by Rich Sanguinetti. The two-out hits kept coming, as Kash Kalkowski laced a single through the right side that scored Scheffert and Sanguinetti moved to third. The Wolverines then handed the Huskers their third run of the innings, as UM catcher Kevin White overthrew the pitcher, allowing Sanguinetti to come in to score and give NU a 5-3 lead.
The Huskers pushed the lead to 7-3 in the top of the ninth on a pair of hits and a two-out Michigan error. Pritchard reached on a one-out walk and scored following back-to-back singles by Christensen and Stock. Both runners advanced on a ground out by Scheffert and Michigan looked to get out of the inning down just three when Sanguinetti ground to second, but DiLaura threw wide of the bag at first, allowing Christensen to cross the plate.
Lemke sealed the win for the Huskers with a perfect ninth inning, as the junior retired seven of the final batters he faced.
The Huskers are scheduled to head to Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow to start preparation for the 2012 Big Ten Baseball Tournament, which opens on Wednesday, May 23, at Huntington Park. Every game of the tournament will be shown live on the Big Ten Network and Nebraska will open play at 11:05 a.m. (CT) on Wednesday against the Spartans, and the Huskers will be the home team in the game.