Illini starter John Kravetz maneuvered through the Wolverines' lineup to hold them to two runs in 7 1/3 innings. Trailing by two runs entering the eighth inning, Michigan came close to spoiling Kravetz's outing by cutting Illinois' lead to one with only one out. But Illinois reliever Drasen Johnson bailed Kravetz out, forcing Michigan to strand the potential tying run at third base.
"We had them right where we wanted them," Illini coach Dan Hartleb joked. "Drasen has done that several times this year -- induce double plays or get a big strikeout. Our guys were confident that we were going to get the job done."
The Illini -- as the No. 5 seed, the second-highest nationally ranked team in the tournament (No. 30) -- used a pair of early runs during a refreshingly sunny afternoon. Sophomore designated hitter Michael Hurwirtz's RBI triple in the fifth inning, which put Illinois out front, 3-1, proved to be the decisive run.
Michigan's All-Big Ten first-team center fielder, Michael O'Neill, a highly rated prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft (No. 86 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list), rebounded from an 0-for-4 night with a critical triple to initiate the rally in the eighth. However, O'Neill grounded out one inning later with a runner on base, promptly ending the Wolverines' final comeback attempt.
Illinois, with its chances at gaining a NCAA tournament bid still intact, remains three wins from reaching the championship game of the double-elimination tournament. The Illini will face No. 4 Minnesota on Friday.
"I still think we're an NCAA tournament team -- I believe that," Hartleb said. "We've beaten good people. We're a good club. You look at our losses this year, we really haven't been blown out. They've been tight games. ... I do think we deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. I think today obviously helps our resume."
Ohio State walks off on Nebraska
MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite watching its slim one-run lead disappear in the ninth inning, Ohio State prevailed in its opening game of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday after a bases-loaded walk propelled the Buckeyes to a 3-2 walk-off victory over Nebraska.
After a late-season skid spoiled their chances at claiming the conference's regular season title, the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes narrowly moved one step closer to redeeming themselves on Day 2 of the Big Ten tourney at Target Field.
Ohio State, back at Target Field three years after playing the University of Minnesota in the ballpark's inaugural game in 2010, withstood numerous rally attempts from the Huskers to put Nebraska one loss from being knocked out of the double-elimination tournament.
Ohio State starter Brad Goldberg outdueled Nebraska's Aaron Bummer, working 6 2/3 innings while allowing only one earned run and striking out six.
The Buckeyes scattered six hits throughout the afternoon. An RBI triple by junior Michael Pritchard in the fifth inning broke a 1-1 tie. It nearly held up as the winning hit before Nebraska's Ryan Peters hit a two-out run-scoring single off usually unflappable closer Trace Dempsey in the final inning to even the score.
But Huskers reliever Dylan Vogt unraveled. He walked three of the five batters he faced, eventually allowing Ohio State's Patrick Porter to cross the plate to clinch the win.
"It wasn't the prettiest way to get it done, but our guys fought and found a way to scratch out another run in the ninth inning," Buckeyes coach Greg Beals said. "It was big for our team to be able to do that after the blown save."
Ohio State moves on to the semifinals and will meet the top seed, Indiana, which defeated No. 4 Minnesota on Thursday night. A victory on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT would put the Buckeyes in the championship game for the first time since 2007, when they defeated Minnesota for the Big Ten title.
Meanwhile, Nebraska's path has become more convoluted. The Huskers gained a one-game bye with a Gophers loss, but on Friday night they will have to face the winner of a 12:05 p.m. game between No. 5 Illinois and Minnesota. Illinois defeated Michigan, 3-2, in the tournament's first elimination game, earlier on Thursday.
Indiana edges hometown Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS -- Anchored by a three-run first inning on Thursday night, top-seeded Indiana held off the Minnesota Gophers in a 4-2 win on the second day of the Big Ten baseball tournament at Target Field.
While Minnesota didn't fade easily, Indiana held off the "hometown" Gophers thanks in large part to a solid start by All-Big Ten first-team pitcher Aaron Slegers. In a seven-inning outing, Slegers allowed one run on five hits and struck out seven batters.
Gophers starter D.J. Snelten rebounded after a rocky first inning in which he surrendered three runs on a trio of doubles. But for a Minnesota offense that has struggled to score runs at times this season, the early deficit was costly.
Down, 4-1, in the eighth inning, senior center fielder Troy Larson set up a Minnesota rally with a leadoff single. Reliever Scott Effross eventually guided Indiana out of danger, keeping the Gophers to only one run.
Designated hitter Scott Donley went 2-for-4, spurring the Hoosiers with two RBIs, including the single that stretched Indiana's lead to three runs in the fifth inning.
No. 2 Ohio State awaits Indiana (41-13) on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT, with a spot in the tournament's championship game up for grabs. The two teams are one week removed from their previous matchup, which saw Indiana take two of three games to stave off the Buckeyes for the Big Ten regular-season title.
On the other side of the bracket, the Gophers (31-21) face a quick turnaround, with an elimination rematch of their opening-round game against No. 5 Illinois set to start at 12:05 p.m. Minnesota's loss provided the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who fell to Ohio State earlier on Thursday, a one-game bye. Nebraska will take on either Illinois or Minnesota following the conclusion of that game.