What started as a slugfest turned into a bullpen, small ball showdown as Northern Illinois (3-14) fell to Belmont (13-4) on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning, 4-3. Both teams combined for five home runs in the contest.
“Outside of the outcome, that was a good baseball game today,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “Our hitters worked the count and battled with a candidate for the Ohio Valley’s Pitcher of the Year, a good veteran with a solid three pitch mix, sometimes four. We had some opportunities break the tie late there but we weren’t able to capitalize on those chances.
“I thought Jordan was good today and made pitches when he needed to though he didn’t have an outing like his previous two,” Mathey added. “Relief pitching was good today too with Justin stepping in with a strong inning. Anthony stepped into a tough situation and we were looking for the left-on-lefty match-up but we didn’t get there.”
Belmont hit the first two home runs, a lead-off homer in the first inning and the other in the third frame to take a 2-0 lead.
Nate Ruzich (Joliet/South Suburban College) joined the long ball party in the top of the fifth inning as he hit a leadoff home run with a 1-1 count to cut the Bears lead in half, 2-1. The homer was his first as a Huskie and Northern Illinois’ first long ball since Brian Sisler’s (DeKalb/DeKalb) at Nevada Feb. 23.
The Bears hit the fourth solo home run of the game in the sixth inning to take a 3-1 lead. NIU responded in the top of the seventh as Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC) singled to left field to lead things off for the Huskies. Connor Duckhorn (Darien/Cowley County CC) followed up on 2-2, one out pitch with a two-run shot to right center field to tie the ball game, 3-3.
Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee/Herscher) pitched 6.1 innings in the contest, allowing six hits and three runs. Belmont hurler Chase Brookshire pitched seven innings, allowing eight hits and three runs.
With the match at a deadlock, the slugfest transformed itself into a bullpen showdown. Tommy Hook (Lockport/Lockport Township), who finished 2-for-4 in the game, made a great diving catch in the eighth inning on a line drive to left centerfield to record the second out of the inning, which likely prevented a late double in the ball game.
Justin Ruckman (Kankakee/Herscher) pitched an inning in relief and did not surrender a hit in the effort. Anthony Andres (Western Springs/St. Rita) hurled an inning of relief as well, striking out one and allowing three hits.
Andres found himself in some trouble in the ninth with runners on second and third with one out and Drew Turner at the plate. With a 2-2 count on him, Andres threw a pitch high and outside that Turner chased with the bat but the first base umpire ruled that he checked the swing to award a full count. Turner singled to left field on the next pitch to clinch the victory, 4-3.
After the game, Mathey said to the team “if we keep playing like we did today, we’re going to get some wins. They caught a break and they capitalized on that chance.”
The Huskies will return to action at 2 p.m. today to take on Lipscomb in Game Two of the Music City Tournament.