Tied 1-1 after two innings of play, the Northern Illinois baseball team (12-19, 7-3 MAC) rallied three runs in the third and one more in the fourth, clinching a 5-3 victory over Western Michigan (11-21, 5-5 MAC).
Freshman Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee/Herscher) pitched seven innings, striking out and walking four, to earn his first collegiate victory in the Cardinal and Black.
Though the Huskies carried a 5-3 lead after six innings of play, the Broncos threatened in both the seventh and eighth innings of play offensively. Ruckman, already with a pitch count more than 100 in the seventh, hurled five pitches in the seventh to retire the side in order.
In the eighth, the southpaw had runners on first and second, opening the door for senior Zach Badgley (McHenry/McHenry) out of the bullpen, who recorded the first out of inning on a 1-3 sacrifice bunt that advanced the runners.
The Huskies took advantage of poor base running on the next Bronco at-bat as Brandon Cable went to third on a fielder’s choice back to mound, stranding Hunter Prince between third and home and leading Badgley to Nate Ruzich for the second out. WMU ended the inning to shift momentum back toward NIU’s dugout.
“The two big innings for us from a defensive stand point were the seventh and the eighth,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “Badgley was awesome out there, he came out throwing strikes and he fielded his spot very well. He knocked his balls down and forced a run down for the second out and didn’t let a run score. In the seventh, we had a chance to score runs and we didn’t do that and for Ruck to go out there the way he did was great.”
Following Badgley’s eighth inning magic, Anthony Andres (Western Springs/St. Rita) stepped onto the mound for the Huskies, striking out the first batter and forcing two more ground outs to earn his first career save.
NIU took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning as Jamison Wells (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly) led off with a single and stole second to put Northern Illinois into scoring position only five pitches into the game. With a 2-2 count and two outs on him, Jeff Zimmerman (Tinley Park/Andrew) singled through the right side to drive Wells home and put NIU on top, 1-0. WMU tied it up in the top of the second, 1-1.
In the third stanza, Connor Schomig (Darien/Hinsdale South) took the first pitch from Mike Moyer and drove it to right centerfield for a leadoff double. Schomig advanced to third on an infield single by Wells and scored on a fielder’s choice by Tommy Hook (Lockport/Lockport Township). Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) drove in another Huskie run on a fielder’s choice and Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC) drove in the final run of the inning on a stand up double down the left field line to make it 4-1.
After a pair of hits by Schomig and Wells in the fourth, Zimmerman popped up to left field which sent a tagging Schomig home safely and secure the Huskies 5-1 lead. The Broncos came back in the top of the fifth inning and cut their deficit in half with two runs on three hits but were unable to come up with anymore in the game, 5-3.
Wells finished 4-for-5 in the game with two runs and a stolen base while Schomig went 2-for-2 with two runs, a double, a sacrifice bunt and one hit-by-pitch. Ruckman earned his first career victory after his seven inning performance, scattering six hits with two earned runs, four strikeouts and four walks.
The Huskies will hope to clinch the series against the Broncos today, with the first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. at Ralph McKinzie Field. Eli Anderson (Glenview/New Trier) will take the bump for NIU, having pitched three-consecutive complete games victories for the Huskies.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.