In a pitching duel, No. 4 seed Northern Illinois was unable to muster enough runs against Rob Wendzicki this morning as No. 5 seed Eastern Michigan won 4-2 in the first round of the 2011 Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament at VA Memorial Stadium.
NIU (29-26) starter Zach Oates and Wendzicki (6-5) faced each other in a pitching duel on May 6th in Ypsilanti, Mich., and it was Oates who came out on top that day. However, the EMU (35-20) left-hander one-upped the NIU ace in the postseason, allowing just two runs on nine hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in his 8.2-inning win.
“Their pitcher was good,” said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. “He was throwing to the zone that was given to him and he was effective. I thought he tired around the fourth inning and we started to settle in as hitters. We gave ourselves a good shot.”
Oates (4-7) went 8-2/3 innings, surrendering four runs on nine hits and two walks with six strikeouts. After giving up a pair of two-out runs in the third, the right-hander settled in to retire 10 straight Eagles and gave NIU a chance to get the offense going.
“Zach was effective, in the zone and gave his team a chance to win,” Mathey said. “He was a warrior; that’s our senior captain on the hill. He gave us everything he could today.”
Thanks to Oates’ adjustments, the Huskies were able to climb back as they scored a run in the fifth and sixth to knot the game. In the fifth, Jamison Wells delivered a two-out RBI single up the middle to score 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year Jeff Zimmerman, who led the inning off with a single. Then White came through with an RBI single to right with one out in the sixth, scoring Jones after another leadoff single and a Joe Etcheverry sacrifice bunt.
With a runner on second and two outs in the seventh, the Huskies almost escaped unharmed but the Eagles received another two-out RBI. Before Ken Battiston roped the go-ahead single to left, he popped up the prior pitch in first base foul territory. Etcheverry ran nearly 35 feet to get close to the ball and stuck his glove out in an attempt to make an extraordinary catch. But the ball bounced off his glove and onto the ground.
“Coming into this game, we figured it would be like this: the team that plays the cleanest game would win,” Mathey said. “Both teams are pretty even teams; we just shot ourselves in the foot too many times. We mishandled two plays in the third inning. And if we make that catch [in the seventh], that runner doesn’t score.”
NIU looked as if it would counter in the seventh as Brett Frantini led off with a walk. However, Connor Schomig came in to run for the catcher and was picked off on an Alex Klonowski sacrifice bunt attempt.
“We knew that they run pickoff plays in bunt situations and we got caught,” Mathey said. “We didn’t run three or four things cleanly and that was the difference.”
EMU then grabbed an important insurance run in the ninth as Daniel Russell led off the inning with a towering solo home run to right off Oates.
With two outs in the NIU ninth, Brian Riegler singled to left to bring the tying run to the plate in Klonowski. At that point, the Eagles went to close Kristian Calibuso and it nearly cost them. Klonowski smashed a ball toward left-center that looked like it had a chance to leave the park off the bat. But it was caught on the warning track, giving Calibuso his second save of the season.
“Going forward, we have to come out of the loser’s bracket now,” Mathey said. “It’s not by design, but we are still playing baseball games. Hopefully we will come out ready to play and do what we are capable of doing tomorrow.”
The loss presents NIU with an 11:30 a.m. contest Thursday, May 26, against the loser of the No. 1 Kent State-No. 8 Bowling Green game that will take place later today. Left-hander Tom Barry (4-5 | 3.93 ERA) will take the mound for the Huskies. He is coming off a six-inning, three-run win at Western Michigan last Friday.