Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Opens Big Ten Play with Series Win over Illinois, but Sunday Struggles Continue

March 26, 2023

Nebraska baseball started off Big Ten play with a series win over Illinois, but failed to finish out a sweep on Sunday for the second straight weekend. 

The Husker offense was consistent, scoring eight runs in both of the first two games and seven in the last matchup. However, Illinois had 10 runs in the finale after producing seven total between Friday and Saturday’s losses.

Sunday’s 10-7 Illini win was disappointing for Nebraska, which held a longer-than-usual postgame huddle on the field.

“We want to be the team that we’re capable of being and we want to have a chance to win a championship,” head coach Will Bolt said after the loss. “2-1 weekends, it’s a good weekend, but when you have a chance to go finish it off, I would have liked to have seen our execution be better in all three phases today.”

Nebraska put itself in position for the sweep with a pair of victories where it set the tone early. The Huskers scored five runs in the first inning on Friday, the first three being brought in by a Max Anderson home run. With two outs later in the frame, they recorded three straight hits, the last a two-run double from Cole Evans to establish the 5-0 cushion.

Five runs were all the Huskers ended up needing, but Illinois did cut down the differential to two runs a couple times. A four-hit third inning made the score 5-3, and the Illini scored again in the top of the fifth to put their deficit at 6-4.

That’s when starting pitcher Emmett Olson took over, striking out six consecutive batters between the fifth and seventh innings. He had a career-high 10 strikeouts in the contest, and Shay Schanaman shut down the Illini in the final two innings to seal the 8-4 win.

Even as he put out a strong performance in seven innings pitched, Olson was struggling with an illness. The junior was throwing up during the game, Bolt said.

“I think it was after the first inning, he comes in, he threw up and he’s like, ‘I’m good. I’m good,'” Bolt said postgame Friday. “He’s a warrior that way. I mean, he’s not even here for postgame because he’s up in the clubhouse. He blinked a little bit in that third inning, left some pitches up and then he just got right back on it.”

Saturday’s pitching was equally impressive. Jace Kaminska didn’t feel as though he played his best, and Bolt called him “one-pitch Willie,” but he still allowed just two runs and five hits in his six innings on the mound. Kyle Perry allowed a run in his one inning of relief before Corbin Hawkins had four strikeouts in the final two innings to help hold Illinois to three runs.

Meanwhile, the offense once again recorded eight runs, but on half the hits. Brice Matthews sent the first pitch Illinois threw deep to the left field for a 428-foot home run, and Dylan Carey hit a homer to nearly the same spot on the following at-bat. An error and wild pitch helped Nebraska finish the first inning of game two up 3-0.

That Husker lead was cut down to 4-3 by the middle of the seventh inning, but Nebraska once again dialed up back-to-back long balls. Gabe Swansen hit a two-run shot, and Griffin Everitt followed with his own home run.

But while there were plenty more offensive highlights Sunday — Swansen and Anderson each hit two home runs in the game — pitching was the story.

Starter Michael Garza went two innings, allowing three runs in both. That put Nebraska down 6-0. Homers from Swansen and Anderson made it 6-3 at the end of the third inning, but pitcher Jackson Brockett also couldn’t continue to hold on after throwing two scoreless innings. Through six innings, Illinois led 10-3.

If there was a note of encouragement to be taken, the final three innings were much better. Jake Bunz gave up one hit in two scoreless innings pitched, and Schanaman finished the top of the ninth without allowing a run. Nebraska scored in each of its last three frames, but those four runs weren’t enough to complete a comeback.

The offense didn’t have a spotless performance Sunday, grounding into double plays on three occasions. But going forward, improving the performances on the mound is the main concern.

“We didn’t get any stops,” Bolt said. “The first three guys that took the ball didn’t get any stops for us, and it shouldn’t get to double-digits, you know, it just shouldn’t. Bunz did a nice job and Shay, so some good signs there, but we need some guys to step up.”

Nebraska’s lost its last four games where neither Olson or Kaminska pitched. The opposition has scored 10 runs in three of those contests, with the other being Creighton’s 6-5 win.

The Huskers will look to break that streak and find some answers in the next games. They’ll play North Dakota State in a midweek home matchup on Tuesday, then will travel to Texas to face Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Abilene Christian in an April 1 doubleheader.

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Tags: Baseball