The Daily Illini

Illinois pours on the runs to beat Nebraska 13-6

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

Illinois flexed its offensive muscles on Friday night in a 13-6 win over Nebraska at Illinois Field. The Illini racked up 15 hits, bursting out to a 13-1 lead that the Cornhuskers could not overcome.

Sophomore Ben Troike extended his on-base streak to 53 games when he was hit by Luis Alvarado’s pitch in the first inning. Opportunistic base running allowed him to steal second on a failed pickoff attempt, then move to third on a wild pitch. Michael Massey drove him home with a two-out liner to left field to give Illinois a 1-0 lead.

Nebraska third baseman Angelo Altavilla went deep to left field for his fifth home run of the season in the top of the second inning with two outs, tying the score at one.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, third baseman Grant Van Scoy hit a one-out single to left field to bring designated hitter Michael Michalak in to score. Troike singled through the right side to score catcher Jeff Korte and Van Scoy.

Nebraska subbed out starter Alvarado, who gave up four earned runs on six hits in 3.2 innings, but to no avail. Right-hander Reese Eddins didn’t fare much better, as an error helped Massey drive in two more runs to complete a five-run fourth inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, right fielder Jack Yalowitz flied out to deep center, but gave left fielder Doran Turchin enough time to tag from third and score to make it a 7-1 Illinois lead. Following that, center fielder Zac Taylor homered to left field for his 10th of the year, a two-run shot that scored Korte.

Left-handed pitcher Andy Fisher commanded the game, pitching six innings, striking out six batters while only giving up one earned run to move to 6-2 on the season.

The Illinois pitching staff collectively held Nebraska slugger Scott Schreiber to an 0-for-5 performance on the day, striking him out twice. Schreiber came in batting .387 and is second in the Big Ten in home runs with 18 (behind Illinois’ Spillane).

“(Fisher) did a great job, an absolutely great job,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “He was ahead in the count a lot, had some 1-2-3 innings in there, had shutdown innings once we got our offense going. It was a really quality start.”

Every single hitter in the starting lineup got a hit on Friday evening, something Hartleb has preached as a key to being able to account for when the team’s more reliable hitters, like Spillane and Massey, don’t match up to their usual production.

“All year we’ve been in a situation where different parts of the lineup give you production, that’s what you need,” Hartleb said. “The top of the lineup doesn’t always produce, so when you have guys one through nine that can go out and get their jobs done, it makes it difficult on the opponent.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Illinois added four more runs to put the game out of reach. Bren Spillane hit a solo home run for his 21st of the season, five back from Josh Klimek’s 1996 program record of 26.

Korte continued an impressive day with an RBI single to score Massey in the bottom of the sixth to make it 11-1. He was 3-for-4 on the day, scoring two runs and adding an RBI.

He gave Fisher credit for keeping the Cornhuskers at bay, exercising command over pitches that move more than most batters are accustomed to.

“His fastball was moving all over the place,” Korte said. “He was dotting up, but it started down the middle, then sunk down to the ground and kids were just swinging over the top of it. His curveball was on, it fooled a lot of the lefties. Lefties always have a problem trying to hit off him.”

Nebraska saved some face in the top of the eighth inning with a long ball from designated hitter Jesse Wilkening. The home run scored two runs to close the Illini lead to 13-3, and the Cornhuskers continued to dig into their one-time 12-run deficit, scoring five runs total in the eighth.

The win brought Illinois to 31-17 (15-8 Big Ten), and also temporarily pushed Illinois past Ohio State up to fourth in the Big Ten standings after the Buckeyes lost to the Spartans earlier in the day.

Massey pinned the team’s strong offensive showing down to a domino effect that stretched throughout the lineup.

“We’re a good hitting team,” Massey said. “We set the tone early and guys followed. Hitting’s contagious, we just kind of kept the train rolling today.”

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