The Northern Illinois baseball team received a masterful outing from starting pitcher Zach Oates on their way to a 3-0 victory over intrastate rival Illinois. The St. Patrick’s Day shutout gave the Huskies their second win in as many seasons over a Big Ten foe.
Oates further established himself in the role of NIU’s ace Thursday night, breezing through a complete game shutout against the Illini at Rent One Ballpark, home of the Southern Illinois Miners. The senior scattered three singles and a walk over his nine innings of work to nail down his first win of 2011.
Oates’ performance was the first shutout hurled by a Huskie pitcher since Nick Hall turned the trick March 4, 2006, at Southern Illinois.
“[Zach] was incredible,” said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. “He was really dominant. I think he only had one guy reach second base. He got ahead and threw to his spots well. He was great, just did a great job. Considering the circumstances — being at a minor league park and facing Illinois — it was just a really, really dominant piece of work.”
Only once did the Illini generate a genuine threat to his Oates’ gem.
With the game knotted at zero in the third, Illinois put its leadoff man on first after an error by second baseman Alex Beckmann. Oates proceeded to retire the next two batters before allowing his first hit of the game to Illini centerfielder Willie Argo. With runners on first and second, the Wheaton, Ill. native induced an inning-ending groundball to Beckmann.
Oates’ feat adds to the recent emergence of Northern Illinois’ pitching staff. As a team, the Huskies have held their opponents scoreless in two of their last three games. NIU pitchers have also limited the opposition to three runs over their last 30 innings of work.
“Our pitching staff has been very good the last three games,” Mathey said. “We’d like to see that continue. The progress that has happened is that we are working ahead, hitting spots, trusting our scouting report and defensive alignment. When all that plays out well, you have a good chacnce to win games.”
Senior first baseman Joe Etcheverry provided the offensive firepower for the Huskies, smashing a pair of run-scoring singles out of the clean-up spot. After shortstop Alex Jones smashed a go-ahead, RBI triple into the bottom of the sixth, Etcheverry drove him in with a poke of his own into left field. In his next at-bat in the eighth, the Californian chased Illinois starter Kevin Johnson with a two-out single into center field to score Jamison Wells.
“Our hitters were very opportunistic,” Mathey said. “Kevin Johnson did a great job for Illinois tonight. He’s their lead guy and was throwing the ball really well. He was mixing pitches and keeping us off balance. We had a couple of opportunities and we did well. Jamison led off with a single [in the sixth] and Jones executed a hit-and-run well with the triple. Joe Etcheverry had two RBI hits with two outs. When you’re four hitter is doing stuff like that it’s a good thing.”
NIU earned their third win in a row, and maintained their perfect record since returning to the Midwest this week. The win runs Mathey’s record against in-state opponents to 57-27 since taking over the NIU helm in 2003.
“We had a great park; Rent One Park is a great field,” Mathey said. “We had a decent crowd and good weather. The wind was blowing pretty well out to left today. A 3-0 ball game is a testament to both pitching staffs. We also had a little luck of the Irish with us with the green jerseys.”
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.