Nebraska baseball scores in six straight innings, evens Illinois series
Nebraska baseball (20-28, 8-12 Big Ten) flipped its Friday script on Saturday afternoon. Unlike in the previous outing, the Huskers jumped on the Illinois Fighting Illini early, limited their strikeouts and got a quality start from sophomore Emmett Olson. The 11-2 win made for arguably Nebraska's most complete showing of the season.
Both teams were deadlocked at zero through the first two innings before the Huskers broke through in the third. Illinois starting pitcher Riley Gowens plunked Cam Chick to leadoff the inning. It appeared as if Nebraska would squander the early gift as both Garrett Anglim and Griffin Everitt went down quickly. But, Max Anderson came to the plate with two away and crushed his eighth home run of the year to score Chick and give the Huskers a 2-0 advantage.
Olson continued to dominate on the hill for Nebraska in the bottom half of the third. The Illinois native worked around a leadoff single from Brody Harding to hang another zero and preserve the Husker lead.
Colby Gomes, who received his degree pregame, extended that lead in the fourth with a solo shot to deep left center. Gomes made it 3-0 Nebraska with his home run that had an exit velocity of 111 MPH off the bat. Olson worked around more traffic in the home half of the fourth turning the Fighting Illini away once again despite two singles in the frame.
The Huskers brought the top of the order to the dish in the fifth and they delivered. Anglim, Everitt and Anderson put together three consecutive hits with one out. Anderson's was a two-RBI double to left center that brought in both Anglim and Everitt to make it 5-0 Nebraska.
The Huskers added more in the sixth after Olson sat the Illinois batters down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Chick hit his eighth home run of the season tying Anderson for the team lead. The two-run bomb grew Nebraska's lead to 7-0.
Olson allowed his first run of the game on a Cam McDonald sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the sixth. In the top of the seventh, the Huskers loaded the bases with two outs and scored a run off a balk from Illinois reliever Ryan O'Hara.
But, the Fighting Illini scored another in the bottom of the seventh off a pair of doubles. That knocked Olson out of the game for Koty Frank who claimed the final out of the inning and with seven complete, Nebraska led 8-2.
The Huskers began the eighth with a bang. Back-to-back hits plated an early run. Anglim doubled and Everitt notched his 38th RBI of the season with a single moments later. A double from Luke Sartori, a sacrifice fly from Gomes and a wild pitch added up to two more runs for Nebraska and an 11-2 lead.
That marked the sixth consecutive inning where the Huskers had scored a run.
Both Frank and Corbin Hawkins worked around singles in the eighth and ninth for Nebraska. In the eighth, McDonald's single stretched his on-base streak to 58 games and broke the Illinois record for the longest streak all-time.
That was the lone bright spot for the Fighting Illini. The Huskers cruised to a victory and will play for the series win on Sunday afternoon.
Its been either feast or famine at the plate for Nebraska all season. Saturday's contest certainly fell in the feast category. Every Husker tallied a hit with the exception of Leighton Banjoff who went 0-4. Four batters had multi-hit games led by three hits from Griffin Everitt.
Max Anderson was one of three Nebraska hitters to launch a home run and led the team with four RBIs. It was the fourth time this season the Huskers blasted three or more homers. Nebraska hit .364 with both runners on base and runners in scoring position, .444 in the leadoff spot, added four two-out RBIs and left eight runners on base.
The number that is the most indicative of the Husker's success was strikeouts. Nebraska had just six which was just the eighth time this season the Huskers had six or fewer punchouts at the plate. Not a single Nebraska batter went down looking on Saturday.
Paired that with Emmett Olson's fourth quality start of the season, and the Huskers looked like a formidable foe. The offensive inconsistency has been one of the biggest things holding Nebraska back this season. Whether the Husker's starting pitcher has struggled or thrived, it seems the bats have only rarely done enough for the win.
If Nebraska fails to make the Big Ten Tournament, it will look back on victories like this one and wish it could have duplicated that effort earlier in the year.
The bullpen is stocked
Nebraska's bullpen is in great position to chase a series victory on Sunday. After Shay Schanaman's confounding 3.1 inning start on Friday and the loss of Tyler Martin to a violation of team rules, that statement would seem impossible. Yet, it is very true.
Emmett Olson went 6.2 innings Saturday allowing two earned runs, scattered six hits and struck out six. That, much like Mason Orenlas and his 4.1 inning relief appearance on Friday, was just what the doctor ordered. The Huskers brought in Koty Frank to secure the victory and Corbin Hawkins closed the game in the ninth with Nebraska ahead by nine.
That means that Braxton Bragg, Dawson McCarville, and CJ Hood would all be available for their first action of the weekend on Sunday. Jackson Brockett is in line to start the final game of the series. Frank could even be used if necessary after throwing 1.1 innings using 17 pitches on Saturday.
Brockett 5.1 inning start against Minnesota last week tied his season high. Bragg has longer than four innings in his last two starts and McCarville was the Sunday starter earlier in the season. It sounds inconceivable, but the Huskers are in prime position to win the series from the pen on Sunday afternoon.
Nebraska and Illinois will meet for the rubber match on Sunday. First pitch is slated for 2:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2. Immediately following the game, Nebraska softball will find out its postseason fate on the NCAA Softball Selection Show also on ESPN2.