Huskers Rally Twice, Take Series Opener, 8-6
Champaign, Ill. - The Nebraska baseball team (12-4) had a 2-0 lead after the top of the fifth, but then had to rally twice in an 8-6 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini (7-9) in Friday night's series opener. Nebraska scored three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings.
The Huskers stole a season-high five bases, while Spencer Schwellenbach and Max Anderson each notched three hits on the night. Schwellenbach also recorded his fourth save of the season with a scoreless ninth, as he struck out the side.
Cade Povich made his fifth start for Nebraska and was opposed by Nathan Lavender, who was making his first start of the season. Povich departed after 5.1 innings and was tagged with four runs (three earned) while striking out four. Lavender allowed one run on five hits and one walk over 4.0 innings, while striking out six.
Povich sat down six straight to start the game and then got a lead in the top of the third when Griffin Everitt hit his first home run of the season to start the inning, giving the Huskers a 1-0 lead. Joe Acker then drew one of his three walks of the night and stole second base, but would end up being stranded. In the bottom of the third the Illini had two on with one out, but Everitt caught Jackson Raper stealing third to get the second out of the inning and following a single Povich escaped the jam with a fly out.
Following a scoreless fourth from both teams, Ryan O'Hara was brought in to relieve Lavender in the top of the fifth. Acker walked for the second time and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Jaxon Hallmark. Schwellenbach then singled to center field, pushing NU's lead to 2-0 lead. Cam Chick then laid down a bunt single and both he and Schwellenbach moved into scoring position on a throwing error. Luke Roskam stepped in with two out and was hit-by-pitch to load the bases, forcing the Illini to bring in Joseph Glassey from the bullpen. Glassey did his job, striking out Leighton Banjoff to leave the bases loaded.
Povich retired his eighth straight batter to start the bottom of the sixth but then walked leadoff hitter Taylor Jackson. The Illini followed with three straight singles, plating two runs to tie the game, 2-2. Nebraska went to reliever Braxton Bragg and with Jacob Campbell at the plate a passed ball allowed Illini to take the lead. Campbell followed with single that scored the fourth run of the inning.
Trailing for the first time on the night, the Huskers quickly had runners on second and third with no outs after Hallmark was hit-by-pitch to start the seventh, Schwellenbach then walked on four pitches and both took a base on a passed ball. Following a strikeout, Anderson and Roskam delivered back-to-back RBI singles, tying the game at 4-4. The Illini brought in Ryan Kutt to face Banjoff and the NU sophomore roped a single up the middle, scoring Anderson to give Nebraska a 5-4 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Bragg got two quick outs before allowing two singles and a walk. On the fourth ball to Ryan Hampe, a wild pitch allowed Jackson to score and the Illini tied the game. Nebraska brought in Jake Bunz and Justin Jansas delivered an RBI single on the first pitch from Bunz, putting Illinois back in front, 6-5. Bunz responded with a strikeout to end the inning.
Hallmark got the Huskers going in the top of the eighth with a one-out single. He then stole second and on the play took third on a throwing error. Hallmark then scored the game-tying run on a wild pitch with Schwellenbach at the plate. With the bases empty, Schwellenbach singled and stole second before Chick worked a walk. Anderson then put Nebraska back in front with his third hit of the game, scoring Schwellenbach. Chick stole third, Nebraska's third stolen base of the inning, and two batters later Banjoff delivered a sacrifice bunt that scored Chick.
Working with an 8-6 lead, Bunz allowed a double to start the eighth before striking out the next three Illini batters.
Schwellenbach struck out Jackson to start the bottom of the ninth but then Braden Comia recorded a double when a miscommunication between Acker and Hallmark allowed a fly ball to drop in right-center field. With the tying run at the plate, Schwellenbach produced two straight strikeouts to secure the win.
Nebraska and Illinois continue their series tomorrow at 5:00 p.m.