Another back-and-forth affair led to Nebraska baseball falling to Illinois 10-8 in game two of the series. The loss ended the Huskers’ seven-game winning streak and dropped them to second place in the Big Ten standings.
Illinois came out of the gates hot, scoring four runs in the first inning, starting with a two-run homer from senior infielder Jackson Raper. Quickly the score became 4-0 as the Fighting Illini never let Nebraska senior pitcher Chance Hroch settle into the game.
“Chance obviously wasn’t very sharp, the slider wasn’t what we’re used to seeing and he left the changeup up there to some hitter,” head coach Will Bolt said postgame. “Just the stuff wasn’t nearly as crisp as we’ve seen previously.”
Both teams scored a run in the third, but it was Nebraska which broke open the game with a five-run fifth inning after back-to-back home runs from junior infielders Spencer Schwellenbach and Cam Chick. Schwellenbach’s long ball was a grand slam to dead-center field as the Huskers took a 6-5 lead.
The back-and-forth contest continued as Illinois added on three runs in the next two innings thanks to a pair of RBI singles and an RBI double from sophomore infielder Cam McDonald. McDonald had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with three runs batted in, and gave the Fighting Illini an 8-6 lead heading into the seventh.
Sophomore pitcher Ty Rybarczyk was a form of wildly effective for Illinois, going 5.2 innings, but set the Fighting Illini up well after his exit with the lead. Both him and Hroch were hit around from the beginning, and never really found a groove on the mound against either offense.
In what proved to be the final runs for the Huskers, freshman infielder Jack Steil led off the eighth inning with a solo home run to bring the deficit to 8-7. It was then a double by senior outfielder Joe Acker, followed up by an RBI single by senior infielder Jaxon Hallmark to tie the game at eight.
“We scored eight runs there and hit three or four home runs, we expected to win a game like that,” Bolt said. “Probably left a few runs out there, but in the end I’m proud of our fight, they’re just going to keep coming.”
Nebraska’s offense was halted by freshman pitcher Jack Crowder, who entered the game in the eighth with two outs and recorded the final four for the win. He struck out three and kept the high-powered Husker offense at bay to finish the game.
However, a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth by sophomore catcher Ryan Hampe gave Illinois the final push for a 10-8 win over Nebraska. Senior pitcher Max Schreiber surrendered the long ball and was given the loss for the Huskers, their first in two weekends.
The bullpen struggled to hold leads over the game’s entirety as they gave up four runs over four innings, and have failed to perform since the beginning of the season. Outside of Schwellenbach and two relievers, no bullpen arm has an earned run average below three.
“At the end of the day it just comes down to executing pitches and being able to put them away, and you need to get ahead to do it,” Bolt said. “The guys that did it had a little bit of success today, but we just didn’t have enough of it.”
It was a great offensive night as Illinois ended the game with a season-high 16 hits to even the series. The Huskers tacked on 13 hits, but failed to knock in runs in bunches outside of the fifth inning.
Freshman infielder Max Anderson looked impressive, finishing the game 4-for-5, including a double. Anderson is now up to seven hits on the weekend and holds an average north of .400, getting back on track after a quiet weekend against Minnesota.
With two runners on base in each of the second, sixth and seventh innings, Nebraska failed to cash in and was bested by the Illinois bullpen. 10 runners were left on base for Nebraska and it finished the game hitting .176 with runners on base.
“We just need to shake this loss, and we need to come back tomorrow on championship Sunday and find a way to get it done,” Bolt said.
The Huskers (12-5) will battle Illinois (8-9) one more time tomorrow in the rubber match tomorrow at noon on BTN+. Junior pitcher Shay Schanaman will take the mound for Nebraska and will square off against freshman pitcher Riley Gowens.