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Huskers' Big Ten Tournament hopes take another hit after Illinois turns game on 3-run blast

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Three straight singles, including one to give Illinois a one-run lead, set the table for one of Illinois' best hitters.

Then Taylor Jackson clubbed a three-run to left-center field.

Just like that, Nebraska was in a four-run hole three innings in. And just like that, Nebraska is facing more and more the possibility of not playing baseball beyond next weekend.

The Illini (27-19, 13-6 Big Ten) pounded 14 hits in an 8-3 series-opening victory against the Huskers on Friday night in Champaign, Illinois. The Huskers (19-28, 7-12) entered the day tied for ninth with Northwestern in the Big Ten standings and a full game behind eighth place.

Nebraska has five league games to try to make up ground on Indiana (22-26, 8-10) for the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

"We've been in this situation for about three weeks now, and when those competitive moments come in the game, there's only one team that's going to be on the right side of those," NU coach Will Bolt said on his postgame radio show. "If we want to get to the postseason, we got to make sure that we're starting to get on the right side of those competitive situations immediately."

A rickety second and third inning Friday had the Huskers on the wrong side quickly.

Illinois post four runs in the third, with three of those coming off the bat of Jackson, who did not miss on an inside pitch from Shay Schanaman. Jackson's blast gave Illinois a 5-1 lead, but Bolt pointed to the prior inning, when Illinois scored one run, as a turning point.

After recording two quick outs, and getting the next batter, Brody Harding, down 1-2 in the count, Schanaman gave up a double. The next batter reached on an error when the throw to Colby Gomes at first base was dropped. A hit by pitch and walk followed.

The damage was limited to one run, but Schanaman had thrown 29 pitches in the inning.

"When we don't punch back offensively that next half inning he's got to get right back out there and that's (tough) to overcome in a short period of time ... and that's where the crooked number came from," Bolt said.

Schanaman gave up seven runs, six earned, in just 3⅓ innings, forcing Bolt to turn to a thin bullpen to cover the other innings. NU, however, did get help from Mason Ornelas, who ate up 4⅓  innings of relief.

Nebraska took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Josh Caron's RBI single. But between Caron's hit and a two-run ninth inning, the Husker offense was ineffective.

Illinois starter Cole Kirschsieper faced the minimum in the third inning, struck out the side in the fourth, and retired the side in order in the fifth and sixth frames. He pitched seven innings.

Jackson had a pair of hits for the Huskers, who were held to six hits and struck out 12 times. Kirschsieper struck out nine, most of those coming over his later innings.

The Huskers and Illini will continue the series at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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