Illinois baseball win final home series of regular season against Nebraska

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Sidney Malone

Junior Branden Comia smacks the ball with his bat during the game against Nebraska on Saturday. The Illini won their final home series against Nebraska with two wins out of the three games: 8-3 on Friday and 5-4 on Sunday.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini kicked off an important final regular season home series with a dominant all-around effort against the Cornhuskers. A final score of 8-3 gave the Illini their fifth consecutive victory as the squad looked impressive on Friday night.

The Cornhuskers got on the board first with a run in the second, but that was all sophomore pitcher Cole Kirschsieper would allow. The starter put together another quality start after seven innings and only allowed four hits and one run to improve to 7-2 on the season. 

Eight unanswered runs followed for the Illini as the bats stayed hot and the bottom of the order stepped up. Sophomore Cal Hezja started the scoring in the bottom of the second, knocking in fellow sophomore Brody Harding after an error by the Nebraska first baseman. 

A four-run third put some separation between the teams. Juniors Cam McDonald and Jacob Campbell got on base, and junior Kellen Sarver knocked in one with a ground ball single.

The very next batter, senior Taylor Jackson, got a hold of one and demolished a ball to left for a three-run home run to put the Illini up 5-1. Some more late runs were knocked in by McDonald and sophomore Danny Doligale for the Illini to take game one.

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    Game two was the opposite of the first, and the Illini pitching staff had its first bad game in two weeks.

    The Cornhuskers scored in six of nine innings in a game that was never close. This loss evened up the series with an 11-2 Cornhusker victory. The two Illini runs were scored on a McDonald sacrifice fly and a Jackson RBI double, but the team left seven runners on base throughout the day and could not capitalize. While they failed to score runs, they also struggled with keeping Nebraska off the base paths, and all four pitchers allowed a run. 

    The unimpressive Saturday performance set up a rubber match on Sunday where the Illini won 5-4 in dramatic fashion on Senior Day. 

    After one hit for each team and zero runs in the first two innings, the Cornhuskers broke through in the top of the third. An error, a hit by pitch, a walk, two singles, and a home run capped a four-run inning and put the Illini in an early hole. 

    Rain began to fall hard in the bottom of the third, leading to a rain delay just four pitches into Harding’s at-bat. The delay lasted over two hours, and the Illini were rejuvenated following the mid-game break.

    Sophomore Justin Janas drove a single into right in the bottom of the sixth to drive in Jackson and make the score 4-1.

    Jackson came to bat the next inning with runners on base after a Hejza sacrifice fly and pulled the Illini within one with an RBI single of his own. 

    A one-out single in the eighth from McDonald tied the game at four right before the second rain delay of the night.

    Another multi-hour delay played into the hands of the Illini, as Janas hit a liner into left in the bottom of the ninth, which turned into the game-winning hit. Multiple errant throws by the Cornhuskers allowed junior Branden Comia to score all the way from first, and the Illini took the game and the series.

    Comia knows that every game counts now, and says that the team understands its strengths.

    “Our offense has been really good, they’ve really stepped up,” Comia said. “I think we really just have to play the best that we can the rest of the way.”

    Comia believes the difference in players’ attitudes during games is a tell of the outcome. Staying focused is key to putting more wins on the board this postseason.

    “I think you can see every time we struggled was when we just rolled out,” Comia said. “So we need to just show up every single day ready to go out and beat someone.”

    Next, the Illini travel to Happy Valley for the final series of the 2022 regular season against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

     

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