There is an additional level of excitement when the conference season starts. Throw in the fact that three of Nebraska’s greatest baseball players ever were in the house to see their jerseys retired and you had a great setting for baseball on Hawks Field at Haymarket Park.
Setting the stage for the first of three games between Nebraska and Illinois was the retirement ceremony on the field prior to the game of numbers 4, 17, and 28 for Alex Gordon, Darin Erstad, and Shane Komine respectively. The legends were on hand for the ceremony, and all three threw out the first pitch. That set the stage for a game where a couple of current stars played prominent roles in an 8-4 Cornhusker victory.
Emmett Olson took the mound for the sixth consecutive Friday night and showed why he’s the guy that starts off a weekend series. He started out fast, retiring the side in order the first two innings, notching a couple of strikeouts in the second. Meanwhile, the potent Cornhusker offense was firing on all cylinders right away as well.
Brice Matthews showed a lot of discipline in his first at bat of the night against Illini starter Riley Gowens, working the right-hander to a full count and drawing a walk by laying off a high heater. That set the tone for the night. Dylan Carey returned to the top of the lineup and followed with a single, moving Matthews to second. With two on and no out, Max Anderson came through, delivering a home run to the opposite field and putting Nebraska up 3-0.
The Cornhuskers weren’t done. After a fly out and a strikeout, Griffin Everitt and Ben Columbus hit back-to-back singles. Up came Cole Evans, who ripped a double into the gap, scoring both runners. When the dust settled, Nebraska led 5-0 after one inning.
Olson then struggled a bit in the third. The first three Illinois batters hit singles, with Conner Milton driving in Ryan Moerman and Coltin Quagliano to put the Illini on the board. Two batters later, Branden Comia hit another single to score Milton. Olson fought through it after a visit by Coach Jeff Christy, but Illinois had cut the lead to 5-3. After the game, Coach Will Bolt noted that Emmett Olson had gotten sick during the game, but fought through it.
Boy did he fight through it! He set Illinois down in order in the fourth inning. In the fifth, thanks to a Nebraska error, Illinois scored another run, but then Olson really bore down. With a strikeout to end the 5th, he struck out the side in the sixth, and got two more K’s to start the seventh. After throwing a season high 111 pitches in seven innings with ten strikeouts and no walks, Olson gave way to Shay Schanaman in the 8th with Nebraska up 7-4.
Schanaman had good control of his slider tonight and was also the beneficiary of a double play to get out of the 8th inning, before ending the game in the ninth by striking out the last two Illinois hitters.
Nebraska added runs in the fourth on a Brice Matthews RBI single, as well as one in the 6th and another in the 8th for the final run of the game and a 8-4 Nebraska win.
Emmett Olson was very good tonight, and Max Anderson continued his torrid hitting with that first inning home run. Shay Schanaman looked as good as he has all season and both Brice Matthews and Josh Caron continued their streaks of getting on base to 20 and 23 games, respectively. Cole Evans was 3-4 on the night and scored two runs. Dylan Carey had two hits, as did Casey Burnham. Burnham also made a brilliant diving catch on a ball hit into the gap in the first inning.
The two teams will be back at it on Saturday with a 2:05 scheduled first pitch. Jace Kaminska will start for Nebraska against freshman Julius Sanchez from Illinois.