What looked like a pitchers duel turned into a slugfest as the Huskers took the series opener at Illinois with a 8-6 win. Spencer Schwellenbach had three hits and got the save on the mound for the Huskers.
The game started slow as both starting pitchers settled in nicely. Nathan Lavender and Cade Povich both started the game strong. Lavender gave up a single in each of the first two innings, while Povich set Illinois down in order for both frames.
Nebraska would start the scoring in the third inning. Griffin Everitt launched a ball to right field for an opposite field home run to start the frame. Joe Acker followed Everitts blast with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch to put another runner in scoring position. Lavender set down the next three huskers with no advance.
Illinois responded back in the home half of the third with three singles. A stellar defensive play by Everitt on a dirt ball read allowed the Huskers to keep the Illini off the board.
Acker helped double the Husker lead in the fifth inning. He reached base on a walk against new pitcher Ryan O’Hara. Jaxon Hallmark laid down the sacrifice bunt and Schwellenbach delivered a single into center to bring home Acker. A throwing error on a Cam Chick bunt gave the Huskers a chance to extend the lead but Max Anderson lined out to shortstop before Leighton Banjoff struck out swinging.
Povich appeared to be on cruise control as he set down Illinois in order in the fifth inning, bringing his pitch total to only 60 pitches through five innings.
With Nebraska leading 2-0 in the sixth inning, things began to fall apart for the Huskers. A one out walk followed by a single brought up the go ahead run. A second hit scored a run and cut the lead in half. An infield hit to Anderson at third combined with an ill advised throw brought in tying run and put a pair of runners in scoring position.
The call to the bullpen was made and Braxton Bragg came in to relieve Povich. Bragg would unload a passed ball and another single to score both runners inherited from Povich. Only one of the four Illinois runs was earned in the inning.
Like they have done all season, the Nebraska offense came back out and immediately responded. Hallmark reached when he was hit by a pitch. Schwellenbach followed that up with a walk. A passed ball put runners in scoring position for Cam Chick who struck out for the first out. Anderson, Luke Roskam, and Banjoff then ripped three straight singles for a 5-4 Husker lead.
Bragg recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. He then ran into trouble giving up two singles and a walk. On the walk, ball four was a wild pitch to plate the tying run for the Illini. Jake Bunz came on in relief of Bragg and gave up a go ahead single to make it a 6-5 game in favor of Illinois.
Hallmark manufactured a run by himself to ty the game in the eighth inning. He had a one out single to put a runner on. He then stole second and moved to third on a throwing error. A wild pitch scored Hallmark tying the game.
Schwellenbach continued the Husker rally in the eight with a single of his own. He stole second and Chick walked to bring up Anderson. Anderson then put the Huskers ahead with a single into left field. Chick stole third before Roskam walked to load the bases. The Huskers then went with the suicide squeeze call and it worked to perfection to add another insurance run. Logan Foster struck out swinging to end the eighth for the Huskers.
Bunz stayed on the mound and the back and forth looked like it was going to continue. A double down the right field line brought the tying run to the plate. Bunz would go on to strikeout the side to fire up the Huskers.
After a scoreless ninth, it was Schwellenbach time on the mound. He struck out the first man. He then got a flyball that landed between Hallmark and Acker that went for a double. Spencer buttoned down and got the next two batters swinging to get the weekend started out right for the Huskers.