It’s no secret. The Nebraska baseball team has struggled on Sundays this season. Starting pitching has been an issue, but according to Coach Will Bolt, it’s not THE issue. The Huskers had their chances in different areas of the game, but couldn’t make the last big blow to get themselves back into it, or one to shut down Illinois from a rally. “That has to be the mentality. Thats why we call it ‘Championship Sunday.’”
In a reversal of the first two games, it was Illinois that struck first on Husker starter Michel Garza, and via the long ball at that. Branden Comia continued to be a thorn in the Huskers side as he led off the scoring with a solo shot to left. After a hard hit single up the middle, Ryan Moerman stepped up to the plate and launched the second pitch he saw over the left field wall. Just like that, its 3-0 Illinois.
Nebraska seemed unfazed, as they had scored 8 runs in the previous 2 games in the first inning. While it wasn’t the back to back homers of Friday night, Nebraska short stop Brice Matthews and and third baseman Dylan Carey started the game off with back to back singles. With 1 out, catcher Josh Caron took a fastball off the helmet to load the bases for Cole Evans. Evans couldn’t quite find the barrel, and hit a slow roller right to the Illini third baseman who stepped on his base and fired over to first to end the threat.
Whole Garza seemed to be finding his way slowly at the beginning of the 2nd inning, he got to 2 strikes on each of the first 5 hitters, he gave up 3 straight hard hit singles to load the bases. A wild pitch would score a run for Illinois, and a Cam McDonald single would drive in 2 more to push the lead to 6-0 before anyone could finish their Fairbury hot dogs.
Nebraska would battle back in the bottom of the inning, on a swinging bunt by Griffin Everitt, Illinois pitcher threw the ball high and inside of the first baseman. Two batters later, Gabe Swansen launched one into the pine trees in center, getting back 2 runs, at 6-2.
Reliever Jackson Brockett entered the game in the 3rd for the Big Red. In an inning that the Huskers have routinely dominated for the year, it looked like they would get back in it. Brockett made quick work of the Illinois batters, with 2 Ks and a groundout. That momentum carried over to the bottom of the inning when Husker second baseman Max Anderson put one into the jet stream that was flying out to right field and just barely snuck a ball into the bullpen for a home run, making it a 6-3 game.
Nebraska looked like it was building something in the bottom of the 4th as well, with 2 on and no outs, only to have a double play, one of 3 on the day, and a pop up strand them. The Illini took that momentum and manufactured a run in the 5th, and after making quick work of Nebraska in the bottom of the inning, opened the game up in the 6th.
After a lead off double, a Brockett wild pitch and passed ball on back to back plays allowed the runner to score. It looked like Nebraska would get out of the inning with only that small damage, as new reliever Will Rizzo painted the corner perfectly on a strike 3 with 2 outs, and was 3 steps off the mound before realizing the umpire failed to call it as such. He walked Comia on the next pitch, and an RBI double and RBI single later it was 10-3 Illinois.
Jake Bunz and Shay Schanaman would shut down the Illini the rest of the way and give the offense at least a chance to come back. Home runs again by Swansen and Anderson, each their 2nd of the game and 3rd of the weekend, along with a bases loaded situation in the 7th, and a runner in scoring position in the 8th and 9th gave Nebraska plenty of opportunities, but they would fail to make that big blow they have as an offense so many times this year, and fall 10-7.
“I felt like we could have scored 15 runs today,” was the first thing out of coach Bolt’s mouth when asked about the 6-0 hole his pitching put him in, and looking at the numbers, its easy to see what he meant. Illinois hit .400 (6-15) with 2 outs. Nebraska .125 (1-8). The most telling number though, hitting with runners in scoring position. Illinois hit .364 (4-11). Nebraska, you ask? Try .000 (0-8). That stranded 8 runners (and 3 more were wiped out by double plays). That is your ballgame.
Nebraska looks to rebound as they host the North Dakota State Bison on March 27th at 6:05 pm. You will get to see a familiar face return to Haymarket Park, as former Husker first baseman Jack Steil is on the Bison team.
Husker Injury Notes
Outfielder Garrett Anglim is close to making his return. Look for him to get at least an at bat or two if its warm enough vs NDSU or at least down in Texas next weekend.
CJ Hood is starting to throw short bullpen sessions. They are looking for him to return to game action sometime in mid-April.