It’s NCAA baseball tournament time, and the Big Ten’s best team just proved it can take a punch.
Indiana surrendered an 11th-inning, walk-off home run against Nebraska on Saturday night, but came right back with a walk-off win of its own Sunday to win the Big Ten tournament championship at Target Field.
Scott Donley’s single to left-center field gave Indiana a 4-3 victory that finally ended Nebraska’s improbable climb.
The third-seeded Cornhuskers (29-30) needed to win the conference tournament to gain entry into the 64-team NCAA field, and those chances looked mighty slim when Nebraska lost to Ohio State on Thursday.
But Nebraska fought back with three wins, eliminating the Gophers and Buckeyes before pushing top-seeded Indiana to the brink.
“In my opinion, Indiana is a legitimate College World Series contender,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said.
Later in the day Indiana was announced as one of the NCAA regional hosts.
Baseball America ranked Indiana (43-14) as the nation’s No. 12 team heading into the conference tournament. In Big Ten play, the Hoosiers led the conference in runs scored (360) and runs allowed (175). Now it’s clear they have some resiliency, too.
“I wish you would have had access to the bus back to the hotel last night, just seeing how comfortable and relaxed these guys were,” Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. “I’m a pretty confident guy. Those guys gave me confidence today because they were so relaxed.”
Smith wanted to rest his bullpen heading into the NCAA tournament, so right on cue, freshman lefthander Will Coursen-Carr turned in nine strong innings.
Indiana grabbed a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning, but Nebraska fought back with single runs in the seventh and eighth. Indiana’s Will Nolden opened the ninth inning with a double, and Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis both walked before Donley sent everyone home.
Travis was voted the tournament’s most outstanding player. Other all- tournament selections included Schwarber, Coursen-Carr, Gophers center fielder Troy Larson and Red Wing native Pat Kelly, the Nebraska second baseman who batted .370 (10-for-27) with five runs scored and five RBI.
“If you’re a baseball fan, you couldn’t have asked for a better tournament,” Smith said.