The Huskers certainly didn't start the season off the way they wanted to with a 6-13 record heading into conference play. But with the knowledge that winning the conference tournament is likely its ticket to the postseason, the start to the conference season gave Nebraska a chance to start anew.
It certainly seemed as if the Huskers played with a new energy, as they posted a season-high 16 hits en route to a 9-5 win over Illinois, which is ranked second in the Big Ten and came into the game having won 12 of its past 13 games.
"There's definitely no questioning this team's fight and college baseball is all about momentum," coach Darin Erstad said on his postgame radio appearance. "Once a team gets it… if you throw a zero up on the board after you score, you can start rolling from that. Any time you can take the momentum away and get it back in your favor, you can change the game a little bit. We were able to answer a few times. There were a lot of ugly plays on the field, but a lot of great plays as well and we made enough to win today."
After being victimized by poor run support all season long, Christian DeLeon struggled when the offense finally backed him up. He routinely had trouble getting the leadoff batter out and gave up 11 hits and five runs, both season highs.
But after showing signs of life earlier this week against Cal State Fullerton, the bats lifted DeLeon. After being shut out the first two innings, Nebraska put a four-spot on the board in the third thanks to four hits and a pair of Illini errors. The Huskers plated another run in the fourth on a fielder's choice grounder by Chad Christensen.
But Illinois kept after DeLeon and tied the game with an RBI double in the sixth. This was the spot Erstad has emphasized all season long - the late-game situation when controversy strikes. Nebraska had struggled in these opportunities for most of the season, but not Friday. The Huskers scored a trio of runs in the seventh on RBI hits by Josh Scheffert, Kash Kalkowski and Tanner Lubach.
Nebraska scored a final run in the ninth on an RBI single by Rich Sanguinetti, but the Huskers didn't need it. After laboring through seven innings, DeLeon turned the ball over to Dylan Vogt, who kept Illinois off the board for the final two innings to secure the win.
"We had a couple errors on the base paths that we need to clean up," Erstad said. "But our bats showed some signs of life and we did a nice job of utilizing the other way."
Nebraska (7-13) and Illinois will square off in a doubleheader tomorrow with the first game starting at noon.
Around the horn
***Erstad said Vogt would still be available to pitch Saturday because he didn't throw very many pitches Friday.
***Christensen improved his hitting streak to nine games. Every Nebraska starter recorded at least one hit.
***Kalkowski was hit by a pitch for the 10th time this season.
***Freshman Wes Edrington had two hits, the first multi-hit game of his career.