Indiana belts three homers to even series with Nebraska

LINCOLN — Luke Roskam kept waiting for a ball high in the strike zone he could hit. So did his teammates.

Such a moment rarely occurred Saturday afternoon for Nebraska. Indiana, meanwhile, flexed its muscle for three home runs en route to a 6-3 win that pushes the Huskers’ postseason hopes to the brink.

Indiana right-hander Pauly Milto consistently hit his spots around Husker knees, racking up 10 ground-ball outs while striking out five on 83 pitches. Like Indiana did Friday, Nebraska loaded the bases with no one out in the first inning but managed just one run before falling behind for good halfway through the game.

“This game was a game of height of pitches,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “Our guys couldn’t pick up the spin on (Milto’s) slider. I don’t know if he threw any balls over thigh high, just pounding with great angle. That’s a very solid outing, and we just couldn’t get underneath the baseball.”

The outcome propels Indiana (32-15, 10-9 Big Ten) into sixth in the league standings, with Iowa a half game back in seventh and Michigan State another half game behind in eighth.

Maryland is one game behind the Spartans, and Nebraska is 1½ games back of MSU in the race to finish in the top eight and qualify for the Big Ten tournament in Omaha later this month.

Each team has four league games remaining. Nebraska and Indiana wrap up their series, which also marks the Huskers’ final home game of the spring, at 11:05 a.m. Sunday.

Nebraska starter Luis Alvarado again struggled with his control Saturday, but in a different way from his career-worst outing last weekend when he issued six walks. This time the senior righty didn’t allow any walks in his three-plus innings, but he  allowed nine hits while frequently missing up in the strike zone.

After surrendering just five home runs in 79 career innings entering Saturday, Alvarado was squared up for  three Saturday. Drew Ashley teed off to right to tie the game 1-1 in the second. Indiana added back-to-back homers in the fourth, with No. 8 hitter Scotty Bradley following Luke Miller’s three-run blast to right with a long ball of his own as the Hoosiers pulled away.

Alvarado scrapped his change-up earlier in the spring, and Erstad said his breaking pitches have been less effective than during his stretch as co-closer last season. That leaves the starter fewer pitches to mix in and makes command more critical.

“You let these (Indiana) guys get extended,” Erstad said, “and it can be very difficult.”

Milto made his part look easy, retiring nine straight hitters into the sixth. He escaped the first inning — a Mojo Hagge single, error and hit batsman loaded the bases — by giving up only a sacrifice fly to Roskam before inducing a 4-6-3 double play from freshman Gunner Hellstrom.

“He had really good down angle on the ball and it just made it hard to swing,” Roskam said. “His change-up looked better with it coming down the same plane off the fastball. We just swung at a lot of pitches down. It’s hard to hit.”

Milto also thrived against the Huskers last season, pitching 6 1⁄3  innings of one-run ball in a game that ended in a tie.

Nebraska (23-25, 7-11) managed five baserunners the rest of Milto’s 6 2⁄3 innings, stranding runners at the corners in the third for their only other early threat. Alex Henwood’s RBI double in the seventh brought NU within 6-2, and Jesse Wilkening homered for a second straight game in the eighth, with his drive bouncing off the glove of right fielder Logan Sowers and into the visitors’ bullpen.

Indiana snapped a four-game Big Ten skid and won for just the third time in its past 12 games overall.

“We were a little sluggish, too,” Roskam said. “It’s just a matter of coming out (Sunday) and bringing energy on Senior Day and try to get a win and win a series.”