Staying comfortable away from home, Northern Illinois has started its six-game road trip on the right foot, as the Huskies climbed to 2-0 Wednesday afternoon with a 4-2 win over Chicago State, extending their winning streak to four games.
Since starting the season 0-10, the Huskies (15-16) have gone 15-6, a run that has only been bettered one time by NIU skipper Ed Mathey during his nine-year tenure — which was an 18-6 burst from March 14-April 19, 2003.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t a streak of games at Ralph McKinzie Field, where NIU is 105-67-1 since 2003, that turned the season around. It was a string of games away from DeKalb that jump-started a tremendous run, and the Huskies have done little wrong since beginning a five-game winning streak on March 16 against North Dakota in St. Louis.
During this successful stretch, NIU is 7-0 on the road, 3-1 in neutral sites and only 5-5 at home.
Much of the thriving run has come because of improved pitching. Prior to its first win, the pitching staff owned an ERA just south of 9.00. Over the last 21 games, the same staff has posted an ERA just over 3.50, nearly a six-run difference.
“(Our pitching staff) is doing a couple things (over this stretch),” Mathey said. “They are throwing the ball to their capabilities, pitching within themselves. They are not going for strikeouts; instead they are pitching to contact. Because of that, the trust bond is starting to grow between the defense and pitching staff. For the most part we are making the plays, and the pitchers are seeing that. They let contact happen more, which keeps the defense on its toes. It’s a good thing because it’s the way the game is designed — when you pitch and play good defense, you have a good chance to win games.”
The stellar pitching theme continued against the Cougars (4-23), with Jake Hermsen throwing five scoreless innings. Even though he took a no-decision, Hermsen set the tone for the bullpen, which only gave up two runs in four innings. Bouncing back from a rough start against Illinois State, the lefty managed to keep Chicago State at bay, allowing just two hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
“Jake was throwing the ball pretty well today,” Mathey said. “He worked ahead for the most part, got in trouble a bit, but got out of it. He deserved to win today, but unfortunately, we couldn’t hang on to that lead. He threw well enough to get the win, though.”
Before leaving the game, Hermsen had a 1-0 lead thanks to a fourth inning RBI double by Jeff Zimmerman but it would not last.
After NIU got another run in the sixth on a Joe Battaglia sacrifice fly, the Cougars scratched two runs off on a single by Tony Sanchez off Ben Etcheverry in the bottom of the sixth. However, both runs were charged to freshman Eli Anderson, who couldn’t quite figure things out in just his third appearance.
Thankfully for Anderson, Etcheverry was able to wiggle out of the jam without any further damage, leaving the game tied, 2-2.
Not wasting any time or opportunities, the Huskies jumped in front again in the top of the seventh with a pair of runs. After Jamison Wells started the frame with a single, Cory Krupp reached on an error and Alex Jones singled home Wells to put the Huskies ahead once again. With the bases loaded after Joe Etcheverry walked, Troy White added a sacrifice fly to give NIU a 4-2 advantage it would not relinquish.
“(Scoring right away) was a big thing for us because you always want to stay on top of people as long as you can,” Mathey said. “It’s a momentum thing. We took advantage of an error and had a couple clutch hits. It was big thing to do that for our team’s psyche, to get that lead back.”
“The bullpen did a great job,” Mathey said. “Anthony Andres gave us two good innings and Glancy picked up the save and did another great job.”
Three Huskies produced two-hit games: Krupp (2-for-3), Wells (2-for-5) and Zimmerman (2-for-4). Both Wells and Krupp scored a run, while Zimmerman scored and drove in a run and manufactured the game’s only two doubles in extending NIU’s third winning streak of the season.
The Huskies continue the road swing with a three-game set against Ohio this weekend. The games are scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, April 15; 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16; and noon Sunday, April 17.