Most games that start at 2:00 in the afternoon end somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00. That was not the case today, as two rain delays saw Nebraska and Illinois finally walk off the field at 9:45, about seven hours and forty minutes after the 2:04 first pitch.
Worst of all, a hot start by Nebraska was drowned out by the first delay, and sunk by the second. After five hours of rain delays, Illinois celebrated like they won the conference championship with a 5-4 win.
Coming off their 11-2 victory yesterday, the Cornhuskers came out aggressive at the plate against Illini starter Ty Rybarczyk (2-1). They showed a lot of discipline at the plate, fouling off pitches and working up Rybarczyk’s pitch count.
Nebraska put runners on base in each of the first two innings, with Garrett Anglim reaching on a single in the first, and then Colby Gomes singling in the second, followed by a walk earned by Core Jackson. However, all three were left stranded. However, the Illini hurler was throwing a lot of pitches and one sensed the Cornhuskers were going to string together hits in later innings.
In the meantime, Coach Will Bolt went with left hander Jackson Brockett, the youngster from Elkhorn South making his second straight Sunday start.
Brockett was efficient in the first inning, getting through it on nine pitches and then setting Illinois hitters down in order in the second. However, as the game went on, the winds were picking up, and the skies continued to get darker.
With threatening weather moving in, Nebraska sent Cam Chick up to lead off the top of the third inning. Chick struck out swinging for the second time in the game. Anglim then reached on an error, after hitting a sharp ground ball that was not handled clean by second baseman Brody Harding. A couple of pitches later, Anglim was thrown out trying to steal second.
If anyone wondered whether the Cornhuskers knew the significance of this game, all questions were answered when the normally reserve Garrett Anglim protested he was not tagged on the play. That fire turned into a spark as with two outs, Griffin Everitt and Max Anderson both singled.
Leighton Banjoff was next to the plate and worked a walk to load the bases, bringing up Colby Gomes. The lanky first basemen drove a 1-1 pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark for a 438-foot grand slam, putting the Cornhuskers up 4-0. This was the second homer for the big guy from Millard West, and the sixth of the season. One has to wonder what kind of season the young man would have had if he wasn’t constantly battling injuries.
With the Cornhuskers in the field for the bottom of the third inning, it rained, and Brockett was noticeably uncomfortable on the wet field turf mound. He went from having pinpoint sharpness to struggling to get the ball anywhere close to the strike zone, resulting in walking the first batter of the inning before a big flash of lightning resulted in the umpires clearing the field and putting the game into a rain and lightning delay.
One hour and forty-five minutes later, the game picked up again with two new pitchers on the field. Koty Frank came out to work the bottom of the third with one runner on and a 3-1 count on Harding. Frank promptly walked him, but then took command getting a strikeout and inducing a double play.
Joseph Glassey took the mound for Illinois at the top of the fourth inning and absolutely shut down Cornhusker hitting. Over the next five innings, all semblance of an offensive attack disappeared as Glassey was consistently ahead in the count. He struck out six, did not walk anyone, and only gave up one hit. What looked to be a second straight game with a lot of hitting for the Big Red was extinguished by a right-handed pitcher from Lindenhurst, Illinois.
Koty Frank was nearly matching his mound opponent. In his first three innings, he faced nine batters, giving up one hit and striking out four. In the sixth, he got three more strikeouts, but also give up two hits and a run. Prior to the start of the game, Nebraska coaches had hoped for a couple of strong innings from Frank after he threw 14 pitches yesterday, and got four.
In the 7th inning, Nebraska finally got a hit off Glassey as Anglim ripped his second single of the game. However, that was all the offense they could muster.
Nebraska coaches decided to send Koty Frank out for the bottom of the seventh despite having several fresh arms available in the bullpen. Frank gave up a double to Cam McDonald, followed by a single to Ryan Hampe.
With two on and no outs, Braxton Bragg trotted on from the bullpen. Bragg had pitched very well in recent weeks, but it became obvious right away that he did not have his best stuff today. After getting a pop up out, he walking Harding to load the bases. Struggling to find the strike zone, he was falling behind hitters and was forced to throw pitches he may otherwise not have thrown.
With bases loaded, nine-hole hitter Cal Hejza lifted a deep fly ball to right field, scoring McDonald from third. It was at this point where a defensive mistake cost the Big Red. Garrett Anglim got the ball in quick to the relay man, Core Jackson, who fired a strike to Efry Cervantes at third as pinch runner Andrew Kim got a late jump. The ball definitely beat Kim to the base, but Cervantes whiffed on the tag.
One batter later, Kim scored on a base hit by Taylor Jackson. At the end of seven innings, it was 4-3 Nebraska, but all the momentum was in the third base dugout.
Glassey set Anderson, Sartori, and Gomes down in order in the top of the eighth. Bragg came back out for the bottom half and walked lead-off hitter Justin Janas. On the very next pitch, the defensive demons popped up again as Jared Camia popped up a bunt. Bragg easily snagged it and then fired the ball over Gomes’s head at first, trying to double up Janas. As the ball rolled down the right field line, Janas scampered to second. Cam McDonald then tied the game up with his third hit of the game, driving in Janas. Tie ballgame.
Coach Bolt brought in freshman lefty Chandler Benson to face left-handed hitting Ryan Moerman and struck him out. Going with the matchup, right-handed freshman C.J. Hood who got Harding to pop up to Gomes at first.
With Core Jackson stepping into the box to lead off the ninth inning, another enormous crack of thunder and flash of lightning caused the umpires to once again clear the field. Rain delay number two with the game tied 4-4.
About thirty minutes into the delay, the umpired called the coaches together, and the decision was made to wait it out and finish the game. Because there are no classes tomorrow at either university, and because Nebraska bussed to Champaign, there was no curfew for this game. Based on where the teams were sitting in the conference standings, both coaches wanted to finish the game.
The second rain delay of the game was three hours and eighteen minutes, resuming at 9:38 p.m. Tommy Green took the mound for Illinois in the top of the ninth and took care of the bottom third of the lineup in order. It is notable that Brice Matthews made a pinch-hitting appearance for Cervantes, though he grounded out to third.
Freshman Corbin Hawkins was the next man up for Nebraska on the mound. He started the inning with a fly out and a strikeout before Comia got a base hit. That brought up the hottest hitting Illini, Justin Janas. He drove a Hawkins pitch the opposite way to left field. Running to cut off the ball, recently inserted defensive replacement Tyler Palmer misplayed the ball enough for Jackson to make the turn at third and go for home. The relay throw went high and Jackson easily slide in for the winning run.
While prospects are slim, Nebraska still have a chance to make the Big Ten tournament.
Nebraska hosts Michigan State for three games next weekend. The Cornhuskers will need to sweep and get some help from other teams.
Oral Roberts will come to town for a game Tuesday.