The Nebraska baseball team fell behind early in its Big Ten Conference opener against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Friday night at Hawks Field and were unable to battle back in a 11-3 loss. Michael Pritchard and Chad Christensen each had two hits for the Huskers (15-9, 0-1 Big Ten), while junior Justin Parr led the Illini with a season-high four RBI’s on two hits.
Junior Kevin Johnson picked up his fourth straight win for the Illini to move to 4-1 on the season, as the righty went 7.0 innings and gave up three runs on nine hits. For the Huskers, Tom Lemke fell to 2-2 on the year, while throwing a season-high 89 pitches over 5.1 innings. Lemke gave up six runs (five earned) on six hits and struck out two.
The Illini came out swinging with three straight singles to start the game, with Parr’s base knock scoring leadoff-hitter Thomas Lindauer. NU’s Cory Burleson then threw out Parr when he tied to steal second and Lemke struck out Brandon Hohl to put two outs on the board. NU looked like it would get out of the inning down just 1-0, but a throwing error by freshman Pat Kelly on a ground ball to second allowed Willie Argo to score, giving the Illini a 2-0 lead out of the gate.
After going down in order in the first, the Huskers cut the Illini lead in half in the bottom of the second following a leadoff double from Richard Stock. With the bases loaded and one out, Kelly plated Stock with an RBI ground out, but the Huskers were unable to tie the game, as Johnson retired Kale Kiser to end the inning.
The Illini went back up by two with a run in the top of the third and neither team scored in the fourth or the fifth, before Illinois scored four in the top of the sixth on four hits to go up 7-1.
NU continued to fight and got a rally going in the bottom of the eighth with consecutive doubles to lead off the innings from Pritchard and Rich Sanguinetti, as well as a single from Christensen to cut Illinois’ lead to 7-4 and chase Johnson from the game. With no outs and Christensen on first, reliever Luke Joyce killed the Husker rally when he got Stock to ground into a double play and then struck out Kalkowski. The Illini added four runs on four hits in the top of the ninth and Drasen Johnson retired the Huskers in order in the bottom of the frame to finish off the 11-3 victory.
The two teams will be back at Hawks Field tomorrow for game two of the three-game series, with first pitch set for 2:05 p.m. The game will be a match-up of 3-0 pitchers, as Jon Keller will try and even the series for the Huskers, while freshman John Kravetz is set to take the mound for the Illini.