Lincoln - Justin Pekarek (Staplehurst, Neb.) threw five innings for his first career win, as No. 11 Nebraska jumped out to a early lead and used a strong bullpen performance to subdue Western Illinois, 5-3, in front of 2,552 at Hawks Field Wednesday afternoon.
Pekarek, who had not started in over two years and missed all of the 2002 season because of elbow surgery, improved to 1-1 on the season, scattering six hits and allowing three runs in the longest outing of his career. The 6-3 left-hander struck out three and walked a pair in an 80-pitch effort, as he started in place of Jamie Rodrigue, who missed the start because of soreness in his arm.
"It was a win, and I'm excited about that," Pekarek said as most of his family was in attendance for his first start at Hawks Field. "It gives me a lot more confidence that I was able to go out there and throw five solid innings on my arm. I'm not 100 percent, but I feel really good. I'm a little rusty and I still have some more work to go, but it's coming along."
"There is a great Nebraska kid getting a win and doing a good job," Head Coach Mike Anderson said after Pekarek?s performance. "You talk about an emotional kid, he bleeds Nebraska. I think his mom is probably crying, and that is a good thing."
The Huskers spotted the junior left-hander early on, scoring five runs in the first three innings, highlighted by a two-run homer by Matt Hopper (Golden, Colo.) in the first and Alex Gordon?s (Lincoln, Neb.) first career round tripper, a solo shot, in the third. The Huskers improved to 21-6 with their 10th straight win, equaling their best start since the 1988 season.
Nebraska needed all of three batters to take a 2-0 lead in the first, as Bubbs Merrill (Omaha, Neb.) drew a one-out walk before coming home on Hopper?s blast, his 10th of the season, to left center off Western Illinois starter Ricky McCool, who dropped to 3-2 on the year with the loss.
The Leathernecks tied the score in the top of the second on RBI singles by John Bertulis and Ryan Schmidgall, but NU would get the runs back in the bottom of the inning, scoring twice to push the lead to 4-2. With runners on second and third with no outs, Merrill grounded to third for an RBI before Brandon Fusilier drove in the Huskers? fourth run with a two-out run-scoring double to right.
Gordon, who had two of Nebraska?s eight hits, led off the third with a solo homer to right center, but McCool, who allowed five runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings, and Shay Butler held NU scoreless the rest of the way.
The Leathernecks, who dropped to 10-16, closed to within 5-3 on an RBI double by Blake Schultz, but four Husker relievers held WIU to two hits in the final four innings, as Jason Burch (Papillion, Neb.) threw a scoreless ninth for his third save of the season.
The Huskers return to conference play this weekend, as they travel to Lawrence, Kan., for a three-game series with the Jayhawks. Friday?s first pitch is set for 7 p.m., with afternoon games set for Saturday (1p.m.) and Sunday (1p.m.).
Note: Saturday?s game time has been pushed up to 1p.m. because of the Kansas basketball game vs. Marquette. Game times for the series are 7 p.m. (Friday) and 1 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday).