Under a blue sky and bright sunshine on the nicest day of the season so far at Haymarket Park, Nebraska hitters figured if you’re going to hit a home run, then the next guy should too. The Cornhuskers went back-to-back twice against Illini pitching to carry the day for the home team and an 8-3 victory to win their opening Big Ten series of the season.
On the first pitch he faced in the bottom of the first inning, Brice Matthews smashed a line drive to left field that landed on top of the restrooms beyond the fence up on the hill. It was Matthews’ team leading seventh home run for the season. Three pitches later, Dylan Carey launched a moonshot to left-center, bringing Big Red fans to their feet again. The Cornhuskers added another run when Josh Caron extended his on-base streak to 21 games with a walk and scored three batters later when Ben Columbus reached on an error. After one inning, Nebraska was up 3-0.
Couple of no doubters. pic.twitter.com/VWg8wHM9Yx— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) March 25, 2023
Jace Kaminska (4-0) took the mound today against a solid offensive Illinois team looking flip the scoreboard from last night. Kaminska did not have his best stuff today, but did enough to keep the Illini at bay for six innings. Illinois manufactured a run in the top of the second when first baseman Drake Westcott opened the inning with a walk and scored three hitters later thanks to a wild pitch and a base hit.
Julius Sanchez, the freshman right-handed starter, settled down after the Cornhusker barrage in the first inning. With the exception of a cheap run in the fourth inning when Ben Columbus scored an unearned run, Sanchez basically shut down Nebraska hitting into the sixth. He did not give up another hit, but showed that he was tired when after striking out Griffin Everitt for the second time to lead off the sixth, he walked Columbus and Cole Evans back-to-back after throwing over 100 pitches. That was the end of his day.
Illinois scored their second run on a Branden Comia home run in the third and added another in the seventh off Kyle Perry, who came in relief of Kaminska.
With a 4-3 lead, Nebraska struck again in their half of the seventh inning. With two outs, Caron singled up the middle. Gabe Swansen, who had come in as a defensive replacement in the top of the inning, then smash a high fastball from reliever Joe Glsssey deep down the left field line for the third home run of the game and two RBI. Up next came Griffin Everitt, who had for the most part struggled at the plate up to this point. He too took Glassey deep for the second back-to-back homers of the game.
With Nebraska up 8-3, sidewinder Corbin Hawkins finished off a masterful two inning performance to close the game. In his two innings, Hawkins struck out the side on the eighth and got another strikeout in the ninth. After the Illini saw a bevy of pitches in the low and mid-90’s from Kaminska and Perry, Hawkins did not throw a pitch over 84 mph. In fact, two of his strikeout pitches were clocked at 72 mph.
Illinois out hit Nebraska on the day 10 to six, but two errors, six walks, and a hit batter, coupled with the home runs, resulted in a tough day for the boys in orange and blue. The long ball was simply the difference in this game. Nebraska hit four and Illinois had one. The Nebraska bullpen also pitched well today with Kyle Perry doing his job in the seventh, and then Hawkins dealing the last two.
The same teams finish the three-game series on Sunday with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Junior Jack Wenninger, another right-handed starter, will take the mound for Illinois. He has a 2-1 record and a 5.03 ERA. Most likely Nebraska is going to counter with Michael Garza, who sports a 1-2 record and a 3.25 ERA. Garza had a nice start against Omaha a couple of weeks ago, but struggled in his last appearance in relief against Nicholls.