No. 4 seed Northern Illinois defeated No. 8 seed Bowling Green 4-2 on Thursday afternoon in a Mid-American Conference Tournament elimination game at VA Memorial Stadium.
The win for the Huskies (30-26) gives NIU its first win in the MAC Tournament since 2008, which was its last postseason appearance. The win also gives NIU its 30th victory of the year, a mark only reached three other times in program history. Not coincidentally, all four 30-plus-win seasons have come under the guidance of the program’s all-time wins leader, head coach Ed Mathey.
“[Getting 30 wins and a win in the MAC Tournament] tend to go hand in hand at this time of year,” Mathey said. “Thirty wins is a goal we’ve achieved a few times. It’s a mark that separates teams and it’s a good goal to shoot for. Our team has done a good job to get into position to do that.
“You always like to do that before the MAC Tournament because they are tough games to win here. Everyone is fighting and playing hard. Outcomes are never a sure thing no matter what seed you are here. This is a good win for the program. When you’re in the loser’s bracket, it’s a challenge.”
Spearheading the triumphant day was starting pitcher Tom Barry, who took a tough loss against BGSU in the second MAC game of the season as he struck out a career-high nine that day in 5.2 innings of two-run ball. Unfortunately, the Huskies were shutout that day.
The same would not hold true in the postseason, however. Spotted with a 3-0 lead in the third, all the left-hander did was be nearly perfect, retiring Bowling Green (20-31) in order in six of his seven complete frames. He started the game by sending the first 13 Falcons down, tallying three strikeouts in the process.
The three-run third came as an outcome of four consecutive one-out singles by Jamison Wells, Cory Krupp, Alex Jones and Joe Etcheverry, who drove in a pair. 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year Jeff Zimmerman capped the inning by delivering a clutch two-out RBI single up the middle.
“Our offense did a good job from the get-go,” said Mathey. “We made their starter work in the first few innings. We would’ve liked to have more runs to help Tom’s effort but that’s how baseball goes sometimes.”
Then came an uncomfortable fifth inning for Barry. After striking out Jeremy Shay, Barry lost his perfect game and no-hitter to Clay Duncan on a sharp single to left.
Pitching from the stretch for the first time all game, Barry struggled to stay in rhythm as he allowed singles to two of the next three hitters. The result was two runs for the Falcons but that would be all the damage they would do against the junior as he regrouped to get leadoff hitter Frank Berry to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
From there, Barry found his rhythm again and didn’t pitch from the stretch for the rest of his performance, and got another run of support as Zimmerman led off the sixth with an opposite field home run to left-center. Barry retired eight more Falcons in a row before allowing a single to Patrick Martin with one out in the eighth.
At that point, the Orland Park, Ill, native was up to 110 pitches (74 strikes) and Mathey decided to go to reliever Alex Klonowski, who promptly got NIU out of the inning unscathed.
In one of his best performances of his career, Barry’s final line was: 7.1 innings, four hits, two earned runs, one walks, three strikeouts. In the process of picking up his career-high-tying fifth win (5-5), he lowered his ERA to a career-best 3.67.
“Tom Barry did a good job on the mound all game,” Mathey said. “He didn’t want to come out but in my estimation it was time. He made big pitches for us against a pretty good hitting team. He pitched a great game.”
After the Huskies were unable to add to their 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year watch list member Kyle Glancy entered the game to close it down.
Despite giving up a leadoff single and then a walk, Glancy nailed it down for his 12th save in 14 chances on the year. The big play that helped him out was the ensuing 4-6-3 double play that was turned by Alex Beckmann and Jones. He then induced a flyout to right fielder Jake Hermsen to end any thoughts of a Bowling Green comeback.
“Our defense did a good job, played pretty clean today,” Mathey said. “The double play in the ninth was huge. Now we have to shoot for 31 wins to get a step closer.”