The Nebraska offense came to play in its Big Ten opener on Friday afternoon at Illinois Field, as the Huskers (7-13, 1-0 Big Ten) pounded out a season-high 16 hits on their way to a 9-5 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini (13-5, 0-1 Big Ten). The Husker win snapped Illinois’ six-game winning streak and was only the second loss for the Illini in their last 14 games.
Nebraska made Illinois starter Kevin Johnson work, as the senior threw 114 pitches over 6.0 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits and two walks. Every Husker hitter totaled at least one hit on the day, while five Huskers had multiple hits, including three-hit performances from Rich Sanguinetti and Pat Kelly. Six Huskers notched an RBI on the afternoon, with Josh Scheffert leading the way with a pair of RBIs.
Nebraska produced three extra-base hits, including a triple from Kash Kalkowski, who was also hit twice, and a double each from Scheffert and Austin Darby.
Junior starter Christian DeLeon ate up 7.0 innings for the Huskers and got the win to improve to 2-2 on the season. DeLeon gave up five runs on 11 hits, but was able to work out of a couple tough situations with no walks and three strikeouts. Senior Dylan Vogt closed the game for the Huskers to pick up his fourth save of the season, as he worked a pair of shutout innings.
After stranding a pair or runners in both the first and second innings, the Huskers gave DeLeon a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third inning. Michael Pritchard got the offense going with a one-out single and moved first-to-third on a well-executed hit-and-run by Chad Christensen to put runners on the corners for Darby. The sophomore lefty laid down a squeeze and it looked as if Pritchard would be out at the plate, but Johnson threw the ball wide of catcher Jason Goldstein, allowing Pritchard to score, Christensen to move to third and Darby to second. Scheffert followed with a RBI groundout, his team-leading 12th RBI of the season. Kalkowski kept the inning going with an RBI triple down the right-field line and then scored when shortstop Thomas Lindauer committed Illinois’ second error of the inning on a ground ball off the bat of Tanner Lubach.
Illinois cut the Nebraska lead in the half with a pair of runs on three hits, including two doubles, in the bottom of the third. After facing just six Illini hitters through the first two innings, DeLeon retired Brandon Hohl before Reid Roper lifted a double into the right-field gap. DeLeon got a fly out from Goldstein and was close to getting out of the inning when he induced a grounder from leadoff hitter Will Krug, but the Illini right fielder was able to leg out an infield single. It was a big play for the Illini, as Michael Hurwitz followed with a two-RBI double. DeLeon then sat down No. 3 hitter Justin Parr to end the third inning.
Nebraska got one run back in the fourth to take a 5-2 lead, starting with a pair of leadoff singles from Sanguinetti and Kelly, followed by a sacrifice bunt from Pritchard. With two Huskers in scoring position and one down, Christensen hit a soft groundball to short that scored Sanguinetti, but Kelly was thrown out at third. Christensen then stole second to put himself in scoring position with two down, but Johnson retired Darby to end NU’s fourth.
The Illini responded with a pair of leadoff singles in the bottom of the fourth, but DeLeon dug in and got a pop up and a 5-3 double play to quickly end Illinois’ scoring threat. DeLeon was unable to escape the fifth without damage, as Justin Parr came through with a two-out two-RBI single that cut NU’s lead to one, 5-4.
Illinois evened the game, 5-5, in to the bottom of the sixth when Brandon Hohl plated David Kerian with a one-out double, after Kerian led off the inning with a single.
After putting zeros on the board in both the fifth and sixth, the Husker offense scored three runs on three hits in the seventh to retake the lead, 8-5. Releiver Jay Tyler took the mound and walked Pritchard, who moved to second on a sacrifice from Christensen. Darby and Scheffert followed with back-to-back doubles, putting Nebraska up 7-5. After Kalkowski was hit for the ninth time this season, Lubach executed a hit-and-run that scored Scheffert. Illinois turned the momentum in its favor when Goldstein picked off Kalkowski and third and Wed Edrington groundout to end the NU seventh.
The Illinis got its leadoff batter on in the seventh when Edrington committed a throwing error, but DeLeon came up big, as he retired Illinois’ 2-3-4 hitters in order to keep NU on top, 8-5, headed to the eighth.
Dylan Vogt took the mound for the Huskers in the bottom of the eighth, where Kerian welcomed him with a double down the right-field line. Vogt’s defense then got behind him, as Kelly climbed the ladder on line drive, Sanguinetti chased down a fly ball in the left-center field gap and Kelly retired Roper on a ground ball to strand Kerian at second.
The Husker bats added an insurance run in the ninth when Sanguinetti drove in Kalkowski, who reached when he was hit for the second time today, with a two-out single to give the Huskers a 9-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Edrington made a pair of slick plays at short to start the bottom of the ninth, before Hurwitz singled off Vogt. The senior righty quickly put an end to Illinois’ hope as a two-out rally when he got Justin Parr to fly out to end the game.
The Huskers and Illini wrap up their three-game series tomorrow with a doubleheader at Illinois Field, with first pitch set for Noon (CT). The series finale was originally scheduled for Sunday, but it was moved to Saturday due to impending weather.