Sunshine and the largest crowd of the tournament so far showed up at Charles Schwab Field on Day 2 of the 2023 Big Ten Baseball Tournament. Most of the estimated 8,000 fans were adorned in Nebraska red, though there were a few Scarlet Knight fans clad in the same color sprinkled among those cheers on the home team. With a 2:00 start, many were working on their tans through the fourth and final first round game.
Once Nebraska and Rutgers ceded the field it appeared that only moms and dads from Michigan and Illinois remained, along with a few interested passers-by. However, with the two teams fighting to survive and advance, there was some high-stakes baseball to be played in the nightcap. At the end of the night one team was packing their bags to head home with their season in the books.
#4 Nebraska - 9
#5 Rutgers - 7
After a roller-coaster, stomach-churning, heart-pounding 9 to 7 win for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, yes, a day of baseball is better with our boys playing! This is in spite of the teeth-gnashing that took place with a couple of veteran pitchers struggling to find their best stuff on the big stage. This was one of those games where you found yourself holding your breath and hoping that the boys wearing the white uniforms with the script red Nebraska across the front would come up with a big play when the chips were on the table, and then having your eyes pop out watching two incredible defensive plays by freshman Dylan Carey.
Rutgers started All-B1G first team pitcher Christian Coppola. The lanky freshman right-hander seemed to get through the first inning unscathed until a video review ruled that Max Anderson had beat out an infield single. Rather than heading to the dugout, the bottom fell out from under the boy from Jersey when Anderson’s base hit was followed by a walk issued to Gabe Swansen and then lefty Charlie Fischer belted an opposite field three-run homer into the win. Huskers up 3-0 after one!
Emmett Olson was good for four innings but then showed some fatigue in the fifth after throwing 84 pitches. Rutgers tagged him for three runs of their own, tying the game 3-3. While Olson was running out of gas, Coppola seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and then got a big boost when the Scarlet Knights tagged three Cornhusker pitchers for three more runs in the top of the seventh. With a 6-3 lead, Coppola’s day was done after having thrown 101 pitches.
While Nebraska had every reason to cash it in, the roller-coaster was just picking up some momentum when Rutgers reliever Grant Bresser came on. His stat line was three batters faced, fifteen pitches and three earned runs. It was five minutes he and Rutgers baseball fans would prefer to forget. Gabe Swansen drove in Casey Burnham, who had walked and Max Anderson who had doubled, with a monster home run to left-center field that landed well up in the bleachers. The blast ignited Nebraska fans as the score was tied. But, the boys were not done. After a couple of outs, the roller-coaster started again as Nebraska scored three more off a single, four walks, and a hit batsman. Six runs off three hits and three left on base for the Cornhuskers as they sent twelve batters to the plate. The tally at the end of seven inning was nine for Nebraska and six for Rutgers.
After Shay Schanaman and Kyle Perry, two of the most passionate members of the team, just couldn’t get outs, Will Walsh came on to quite the Scarlet Knights attack and got the last four outs of the game. Final score: Nebraska 9, Rutgers 7. Nebraska will face regular season champion Maryland at 6:00 p.m. Thursday. Meanwhile, Rutgers has a breakfast call tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. vs. the Spartans from Michigan State.
For a much more detailed and complete recap of the game, got to Aaron Rastovski’s recap of Nebraska’s win over the Scarlet Knights.
#6 Michigan - 6
#7 Illinois - 3
Win or go home. Game 5 presented the first elimination game of the tournament with Michigan rolling out Noah Rennard to start on the bump sporting a 6-4 record. The senior has filled nearly every pitching role for the Wolverines with a team leading 24 appearances this season. Illinois countered with right-hander Riley Gowens with a 2-2 record.
Dennard gave up couple of hits early in the game but was for the most part in control in the early going. Gowens basically lived on the edge from the outset, loading the bases with Wolverines in the first and seeing two reach in the second, but each time worked himself out of a jam. That worked until the third inning when Michigan erupted for five runs, sparked by a Ted Burton triple and a Jack Van Remortel three run homer.
As good as he was in the first five innings, Dennard found trouble in the top of the sixth inning when he gave up four straight singles and a run before giving way to reliever Jacob Denner. He was eventually able to stop the bleeding, but Illinois put three across to cut Michigan’s lead to two.
That would be the end of Illinois scoring as Denner took command and earned the save for Michigan. Cody Jefferis added a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to make the final score 6-3 for the maize and blue. The tournament is over for Illinois, who finish the season with a 25-27 record. Michigan now advances to Game 9 at 2:00 on Friday against an either Iowa or Indiana.
Tomorrow — Day 3
First pitch Thursday is 10:00 a.m. as Michigan State will face off against Rutgers.
Then it’s back to the winner’s bracket at 2:00 p.m. with the Iowa Hawkeyes facing off against the #2 seed Indiana Hoosiers.
All of that will be preliminary to the home state crowd coming into the stadium dressed in red at the Nebraska Cornhuskers take on regular season champ Maryland Terrapins at 6:00 p.m.