Nebraska baseball extended its win streak to seven Friday night as it fought to a chaotic victory over Illinois 8-6. The win puts the Huskers in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
After two quiet innings offensively, junior catcher Griffin Everitt smacked a home run to right field for a 1-0 lead in the third. The Huskers had a runner on base in each of the first three innings, only managing to strike once on the solo homer.
Junior pitcher Cade Povich turned in another solid performance over his 5.1 innings of work against the Fighting Illini. He worked out of a jam early in the bottom half of the third after allowing runners on first and third courtesy of three singles, forcing a flyout to end the inning.
After the Huskers drove out sophomore pitcher Nate Lavender in the fifth inning, the offense jumped on freshman reliever Ryan O’Hara. He surrendered an RBI single to make it 2-0 by junior infielder Spencer Schwellenbach and also loaded the bases on a walk and bunt single before being replaced by freshman Joseph Glassey.
“We didn’t cash in on our opportunities early in the game, we left eight on base through the first five innings,” head coach Will Bolt said postgame. “Luckily we saved the biggest hits for the back half of the game.”
Glassey struck out sophomore infielder Leighton Banjoff to escape with no further damage in the frame. However, Illinois jumped on Povich in the fifth, pouring in four runs on four hits, with an unearned run being scored on a passed ball by Everitt, making the score 4-2.
The Huskers immediately responded with three runs of their own on three consecutive RBI singles, giving Nebraska the lead back 5-4 in the seventh inning. It didn’t take long for Illinois to answer once again as it regained the lead 6-5 on another passed ball and an RBI single from freshman infielder Justin Janas.
Battling back and forth, senior outfielder Jaxon Hallmark singled in the eighth. After an errant throw on a steal attempt, he advanced to third, and crossed home plate on a wild pitch. Following a single by Schwellenbach, who finished the day 3-for-5, freshman infielder Max Anderson knocked him in to go up 7-6.
“I called them up after we lost the lead there in the seventh inning and told them we got three innings left to play,” Bolt said. “Let’s save our best for last.”
In what turned out to be a much-needed insurance run, Bolt put on a squeeze bunt for Banjoff to give Nebraska an 8-6 lead. Junior pitcher Jake Bunz came in and shut down the Fighting Illini in the seventh and eight innings, striking out four over 1.1 innings.
With nothing doing for the Huskers in the top half of the ninth, hard-throwing Schwellenbach struck out the side to cap off the wild and chilly victory.
Nebraska stranded 13 runners on base and struggled to get big hits with runners in scoring position until the game’s latter half. It was mostly singles that put Huskers on base as they only recorded one extra base knock in their 13 hits.
The team’s motto given in the press conference was “gritty not pretty,” an apt descriptor for the win. Bunts and stolen bases helped propel Nebraska to the win, embracing the small ball team style.
A big win in the series opener sets Nebraska up with some momentum heading into the rest of the weekend, as its win streak extends to seven.
“We always talk about the mental toughness part of the game and typically what happens is the tougher team wins,” Bolt said. “I thought we showed ours there at the end and ultimately came away with a big win.”
Nebraska will take on Illinois again tomorrow for a late first pitch at 5:00 p.m., which can be watched on BTN+. Senior pitcher Chance Hroch will take the mound for the Huskers and faces sophomore pitcher Ty Rybarczyk.