In call and response fashion at All Pro Freight Stadium, the Northern Illinois baseball team (6-17, 2-2 MAC) defeated Akron (4-18, 2-2 MAC) with two runs in the top of the ninth to give the Huskies a 4-3 victory.
Junior Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) finished 4-for-4 with two runs and a walk in the game.
“I was glad we won that ball game today; otherwise what little gray hair I have might have been a lot grayer,” said head coach Ed Mathey after the game.“We hung tight and battled and Jordan pitched well enough to win the game. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t get him the victory today. Our defense did a good job of limiting the damage in the game and it proved vital.”
The Huskies were the first team on the board led by Tommy Hook (Lockport/Lockport Township) reaching base on an error and a single by Klonowski to centerfield to put two runners on with one out.
With a cloudless sky and gusty winds off Interstate-90, cleanup hitter Jeff Zimmerman (Tinley Park/Andrew) hit a hanging line drive to left centerfield. The centerfielder went for the ball on a dive and was unable to come up with it which brought Hook and Klonowski home, and Zimmerman to third for his second triple of the season to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
Akron followed suit in the bottom of the first inning, scoring one run to make it a 2-1 ball game.
In the following seven innings, the Huskies had no trouble getting runners on but were unable to bring the runners home, stranding 13 runners on base, including bases loaded in the third inning.
“As I’ve said before, it’s a good news bad news situation. Good news is we’re getting guys on base, bad news is we’re not scoring them. The positive said of today was the guys came through when it really mattered in the game,” Mathey said. “The gods of baseball should not allow winning runs to come across from a walk and a hit by pitch but we’ve been on the other side of that as well. That’s baseball. Chris’ RBI single proved be crucial when it looked to be just insurance at the time.”
Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee/Hershcer) finished his afternoon with a career-high 7.2 innings pitched, two runs allowed, along with four strikeouts and two walks in the game. Evenly distributed, Ruckman forced nine groundouts and nine popouts in the game.
With Anthony Andres (Western Spring/St. Rita) entering the game for Ruckman in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on second, batter Matt LaRocca recorded an infield single on a hit and run to score baserunner Joey Havrilak and tie the game, 2-2. The no-decision was Ruckman’s third in his last four starts.
The Huskies came out in the ninth inning with a purpose, swinging the bats and taking the freebies by the Zips pitching staff to score runs and break the deadlock.
Klonowski walked to lead off the inning and Zimmerman reached on a hit by pitch to put runners on first and second. Brian Sisler (DeKalb) sacrificed the runners ahead one base for the first out of the inning and Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC) hit a sacrifice fly to center field to break the tie, 3-2. Northern Illinois scored its final run of the game on a bloop single by Chris Divarco (Long Grove/Carmel Catholic) to score Zimmerman and give NIU a 4-2 lead.
Andres stayed on the mound in the ninth to finish the game for the Huskies and recorded the first two outs before an error by Tenhagen allowed Gerrad Rohan to reach third and put the Zips in scoring position. Sheltrown brought Rohan home to make a 4-3 game but Andres made Havrilak chase low and outside on an 0-2 pitch to solidify the Huskies victory, 4-3.
Klonowski and Zimmerman combined 7-for-8 (.875) with two RBI, a triple, a walk and a hit pitch in the game, leading to an on base percentage of .900 in the contest. Divarco finished 2-for-4 with a double off the left field wall and the game-winning RBI. Andres earned his first win of the season after his 1.1 innings pitched.
The Huskies and Zips will continue their series Saturday afternoon, with first pitch slated at 3:30 p.m.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.