Nebraska vaulted to the top of the Big Ten standings with an 8-6 win over Illinois on Friday night that was as satisfying as it was imperfect.
The Huskers (12-4) emerged from a wild final few innings to claim their seventh straight victory thanks to contributions throughout the lineup and pitching staff.
The offense again flexed its versatility, creating runs with a variety of hits (13), stolen bases (five) and sacrifices (three) as it rallied from deficits in the seventh and eighth innings.
“We’ve been getting those big hits,” Nebraska coach Will Bolt said during his postgame radio interview. “But luckily we saved the biggest hits for the backside of the game.”
Cade Povich threw five strong innings before running into trouble in the sixth, and three relievers limited damage the rest of the way as NU pushed its win streak to its longest since the 2016 team won eight in a row.
The three-game series resumes Saturday at 5 p.m.
Friday’s contest appeared destined for a standard pitchers’ duel as Nebraska led 2-0 through five innings. Povich had posted four 1-2-3 innings and skirted trouble in the third despite three Illinois singles.
Griffin Everitt swatted his first career NU homer — an opposite-field solo shot to right in the third — and Spencer Schwellenbach pushed an RBI single to center in the fifth after Joe Acker walked and moved to second base on a sacrifice.
But with one out in the sixth, Illinois (7-9) strung together four hits and a walk to score four runs. A throwing error by third baseman Max Anderson followed a Ryan Hampe RBI single and Illinois piled on additional runs on a passed ball and a Jacob Campbell hit.
Nebraska countered with three runs in the seventh on consecutive RBI hits from Anderson, Luke Roskam and Leighton Banjoff after a walk and hit batter to go up 5-4. Illinois retook a 6-5 lead in the bottom half of the inning with a two-out rally, producing runs on a wild pitch and Justin Janas RBI single after two soft singles.
After scoring through power, small ball and singles earlier in the game, the Huskers turned to aggression on the base paths in a decisive three-run eighth.
Jaxon Hallmark, Schwellenbach and Cam Chick all stole a base, with Hallmark taking third on the catcher’s throwing error and scoring on a wild pitch. Anderson delivered an RBI hit to left and Banjoff tacked on an insurance run with a squeeze bunt with the bases loaded and one out.
“Awfully proud of our team,” Bolt said. “Every time they scored, we responded.”
Nebraska stranded 13 runners on base against an Illinois staff that had given up the most hits in the Big Ten entering the weekend.
Povich lasted 5⅓ innings, allowing six hits and a walk while striking out four. Three of his four runs were earned. Braxton Bragg gave up a pair in the seventh before Jake Bunz worked around two hits by striking out four in 1⅓ scoreless innings. Schwellenbach picked up his fourth save by striking out the side in the ninth.
NU’s seven-game streak ties the 2014 team for its longest in league play since the program joined the Big Ten a decade ago. It enters Saturday a half game ahead of both Indiana and Michigan.