Huskers Take Series at Illinois, 2-1
Champaign, Ill. – After dropping the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at Illinois Field, the Nebraska baseball team (8-14, 2-1 Big Ten) responded with a 6-4 win in game two to take its Big Ten opening series over the Illinois Fighting Illini (14-6, 1-2 Big Ten). The Huskers took the series opener on Friday, 9-5, behind a season-high 16 hits.
The two teams were tied, 4-4 after the third inning, when Nebraska’s bullpen put up zeros the rest of the way on the scoreboard, while NU’s offense scored a pair of runs in the top of the eighth to aid in the win. Zach Hirsch delivered 3.1 innings of shutout relief of starter Brandon Pierce, and Dylan Vogt closed the door with 2.2 innings of one-hit relief to earn his first win over the season after throwing 35 pitches for a save in Friday’s win.
The Huskers continued to swing the bats well with 12 hits in game two, as the Huskers totaled 39 hits in the three-game series. Austin Darby led the way in the series clincher with a 3-for-5 performance, while Pat Kelly, Michael Pritchard and Chad Christensen each had two hits.
Illinois starter Drasen Johnson lasted just 2.1 innings against the Husker bats, giving up four runs (all earned) on seven hits and a walk.
Nebraska jumped out to a 1-0 lead to start the game, as Sanguinetti got the offense going with a hustling double on a ground ball into right field. With one down, Pritchard lined a single into left field to score Sanguinetti. Illinois was in position to score in the bottom of the first after loading the bases with a two-single and a two-out walk, but Pierce struck out Thomas Lindauer looking on end the inning.
Pierce retired the first two Illini batters he faced in the second, but then gave up a pair of walks and hit Michael Hurwitz to load the bases. Unlike the first inning, Pierce was unable to escape without damage, as Justin Parr lined a two-RBI single to right field to give Illinois a 2-1 lead.
The Husker offense got back to work in the third, sending nine batters to the plate to score three runs on five hits and the Huskers knocked Johnson out of the game after 2.1 innings of work. Sanguinetti lead off the inning with his second hit of the game and after Kelly grounded out, the Huskers strung together four straight singles. Nebraska had the bases loaded with two down, where reliever Rob McDonnell retired Wes Edrington to end the NU third.
The bottom of the third was a replay of the second for the Illini, as Pierce retired the first two batters he faced, but then allowed a pair of runners. No. 9 hitter Kelly Norris-Jones delivered a two-RBI double down the left-field line to tie the game, 4-4.
Illinois loaded the bases for the third time in the fifth inning, but just like the first inning, the Illini were unable to capitalize. After reliever Zach Hirsch hit Norris-Jones to load the bases with one down, the Husker lefty got a 1-2-3 ground-ball double play off the bat of Will Krug to keep the game tied, 4-4, through five innings.
Nebraska had the go-ahead run at third base with one out in the seventh in Pritchard, but McDonnell stranded him there by retiring Darby and Kash Kalkowski in order.
The Illini loaded the bases again in the seventh following a pair of one-out singles and a walk. Head Coach Darin Erstad went to Dylan Vogt, who calmed the waters for the Huskers. After Illini won the first game of the doubleheader on a walk-off squeeze, they tried it again to take the lead, but Vogt fielded his position well and flipped the ball from his glove to Tanner Lubach at the plate to cut down Lindauer. With the bases still juiced, Vogt struck out Krug with a nasty pitch that got away from Lubach, but the NU backstop quickly got to the ball and beat Hohl to the plate for the third out of the inning.
After being held scoreless for five-straight innings, Kelly put the Huskers back in front, 6-4, with a clutch two-out single in the eight. Blake Headley led off with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice from Lubach. Bryan Peters then pinch hit for Edrington and reach on a throwing error by Hohl at third base, which also allowed Headley to move to third. Sanguinetti struck out for the second out, but during the at-bat Peters stole second. With two down, Kelly lifted the first pitch he saw from reliever Jay Tyler into the right-field gap to plate two runs.
Vogt came out and retired the Illini in order in the eighth, as he sat down Illinois’ 2-3-4 hitters in order, including a strikeout of Jordan Parr to end the inning.
David Kerian led off the ninth with a single, but Vogt’s defense got behind him as Peters made three straight putouts from short, including two diving stops, to secure the win.
Nebraska caps its 12-game road trip on Tuesday, March 26, when it heads to Manhattan, Kan., for a midweek game with the Kansas State Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. The game will be carried by Fox College Sports and will be streamed at K-StateHD.TV (subscription required). The Huskers return to Hawks Field next weekend, when they host Northwestern for NU’s Big Ten home opener.