Huskers Thump Illini, 18-5
Lincoln - After dropping its Big Ten Conference opener on Friday night, the Nebraska baseball team (16-9, 1-1 Big Ten) rebounded with an 18-5 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini at Hawks Field on Saturday afternoon to tie the three-game series at 1-1. Trailing 3-0 going into the bottom of the second, NU plated 11 runs on seven hits, as the first nine batters of the inning reached base and scored. All but one of the Huskers' starters had at least one hit on the day, including two each from Richard Stock and Kash Kalkowski, who homered in the fifth inning. Rich Sanguinetti and Cory Burleson each had three RBI's on the afternoon, while Chad Christensen was the only starter to not get a hit, but tied Kalkowski for the team lead in runs with three.
Freshman Kyle Kubat improved to 2-0 on the year with 3.0 innings of shutout baseball in relief of starter Jon Keller. Overall, the Husker bullpen shutout the Illini over the final 5.0 innings of the game on two hits and three strikeouts, with all three punch outs coming from Kubat.
For the Illini, starter John Kravetz lasted a season-low 1.0 inning in the loss after pitching no less than 4.0 innings in his previous four starts this season. The Huskers dinged up the freshman for nine runs, including eight earned, on five hits. NU's offense worked eight walks on the afternoon off the Illini staff, while striking out just three times. The 18 runs given up by the Illini was a season high after allowing 13 runs on two occasions to Notre Dame and Gonzaga. It was also the most runs scored by the Huskers in a conference game since NU plated 22 runs at Kansas State during the 2002 season.
Illinois took the lead after one inning for the second straight game and added two more runs in the second, including a solo home run from Bill Charvat, to take a 3-0 lead. After the Huskers went down in order in the first, Stock got NU its first hit of the game for the second straight day with a leadoff single in bottom of the second. Stock also led off the bottom of the second on Friday night with a double.
Kalkowski followed with a ground ball to Thomas Lindaurer at short, who tried to get Stock at second, but was safe when Reid Roper failed to touch the bag, giving NU runners at first and second with no outs. Kurt Farmer followed with the Huskers' 18th bunt single of the season to load the bases, before Kravetz hit Burleson to score Stock. Kale Kiser then delivered a RBI single, Bryan Peters was hit-by-pitch and Michael Pritchard stroked a RBI single to give the Huskers their first lead of the series, 4-3, with the bases still load and no outs for Sanguinetti. Hitting .667 (2-for-3) on the year with the base loaded, including one grand slam, Sanguinetti blasted a triple into the right-center-field gap to clear the bases and put NU up 7-3. Christensen then hit a ground ball to second that scored Sanguinetti and looked to be the first out of the inning, but Roper couldn't field the ball cleanly, allowing Christensen to reach first. Following a ground out by Stock, Kalkowski became the third Husker of the inning to be hit-by-pitch and Farmer walked to load the bases once again with one down. Burleson came to the plate for the second time in the inning with the bases juiced and laced a two-RBI single down the left-field line for this second and third RBI's of the inning. Kiser plated the final run of the inning on sacrifice fly to center field that scored Farmer.
The Illini was able to get one run back in the top of the third after Jordan Parr led off with a double and Davis Hendrickson followed with a single, but the Huskers responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame to extend their lead to 13-4. In the third, the Huskers loaded the bases with one down on a walk to Christensen, a single by Stock and Kalkowski's second hit-by-pitch of the game. Farmer then lift a sacrifice fly into left field that looked like it would just score Christensen, but Parr lost the ball while transferring it from his glove, allowing Stock to also score from second base on the play.
After being hit in his previous two trips to the plate, Kalkowski finally got a pitch he could handle in the bottom of the fifth and blasted a two-out two-run homer over the left-center-field. It was the junior's third home run of the year and his second in four games.
With the bullpen shutting down the Illini, the Huskers added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth on just one hit. Nine batters came to the plate for the Huskers, with Kalkowski netting the lone hit with a one-out single. NU drew four walks in the inning, including a base-loaded free pass to Peters. The Illini's David Kerian helped the Huskers the most in the inning with a two-out error at second on a routine ground ball of the bat of Prichard that scored Blake Headley and Kiser.
The two teams will meet for the rubber match tomorrow, with first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. Sophomore lefty Zach Hirsch (2-1) will look to help the Huskers win their first Big Ten series, while the Illini will send right-handed freshman Josh Ferry (1-0) to the mound.